As a small business, we're always looking for ways to give back to our community and support organizations who spearhead programs that make a difference. That's why, for the entire month of August, we're donating 100% of our proceeds from our Fromage & Fig ice cream flavor to the Sustainable Food Center with our "Go Fig Or Go Home" campaign!
The Sustainable Food Center (SFC) is a powerhouse of a non-profit, with a mission to cultivate "a healthy community by strengthening the local food system and improving access to nutritious, affordable food." Started in 1993, the organization first began as Austin Community Gardens and has grown to become involved with every step of Austin's local food system.
"We have a multi-pronged approach to the food system," said SFC Communications Director Becca Montjoy. "Our primary focus is on health, the health of the people in our community, our economy and our environment."
Although most people know about SFC from their three farmers' markets (downtown and Sunset Valley at the Tony Burger Center on Saturday mornings, plus Wednesday afternoons at the Triangle), their reach in the community goes much further. In fact, the farmers' markets are just one element of a program out of three that SFC currently runs: Farm Direct, The Happy Kitchen, and Grow Local.
Farm Direct, which encompasses SFC farmers' markets, promotes access to fresh, healthy food by connecting local farmers with the community. SFC also facilitates strengthening these relationships with direct marketing efforts like Farm to Work, where SFC connects local farmers to businesses so that employees can order produce to be delivered straight to their workplace. SFC also runs Double Dollars, which enables people to shop at SFC farmers' markets and use their food assistance money, like SNAP, with double spending power.
"They can spend up to $30, and then we'll give them $30, so that's $60 per week on fresh produce," Becca said. "That's a program we started a few years ago and it has really taken off."
With Happy Kitchen, SFC offers community cooking and nutrition education classes taught by peer facilitators. Participants learn valuable lessons from how to read a nutrition label to how to shop at the grocery store, as well as receive a bag of groceries weekly to practice a recipe from the Happy Kitchen cookbook at home. SFC also offers for-a-fee classes at its East Austin homebase that includes basic and more specialized cooking classes for people who want to improve their home-cooking.
Grow Local is SFC's gardening arm that teaches gardening classes in the community and offers free gardening resources to low-income residents. They also offer consulting services for people who want to start their own community or school garden. One of Becca's favorite stories about SFC comes from Caitlin Riojas, a social worker who reached out to SFC's garden manager to help start a small garden at an AISD alternative education school. Through the school garden, Caitlin saw a struggling student's behavior improve significantly as he connected with nature.
"It's such an engaging thing for kids to do, to grow their own food and understand the connection they make to the food and the land and to each other," Becca said. "[Caitlin] also sends the produce home with the kids, so they have fresh fruits and veggies at home."
The success of these programs have been tremendous. Last year alone, SFC's gross farmers' market sales surpassed $2.1 million on behalf of their 80+ vendors. Through Grow Local, 40 local school attended school garden trainings and over 1,250 people received free gardening materials. With Happy Kitchen, 512 community members were able to attend a free six-week cooking series, including four classes hosted in outlying communities like Pflugerville, Hutto, and Elgin.
"A lot of the clients we serve are being displaced," Becca said. "We're finding the need to take our programming out to other areas."
There are lots of ways in which people can support SFC's mission, from shopping at local farmers' markets to taking a cooking class or signing up to volunteer. People who are interested in learning more about SFC's operations are welcome to take a tour of their space and teaching garden (click HERE to RSVP for their next tour on August 29th!).
We are also excited to be offering two ice cream-making workshops on August 8th and August 22nd at CRAFT this month, with all proceeds from the classes going to SFC. Tickets are still available! But if you can't make it to a class, you can also pick up a pint or snag some scoops of our Fromage & Fig flavor at any of our Austin scoop shops. This flavor features figs sourced from our friends at Urban Roots. It tastes good to give back!