Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Wasted in Travis County

[Update: Photo Credit: Thanks to the Pitres of Tecolote Farms for sharing great photos of the park and their farm for this piece./Correction: It is the FM 969 growth corridor, not "696" Corridor as previously posted. Thanks to an eagle-eyed reader who caught and helped correct that error.]

Officials for Travis County often take a somewhat hard line with small potatoes like family farms or individuals.

Our county commissioners are elected officials. Numbers, and potential political campaign contribution fund sources are the real numbers we are talking about here more than individual votes -those numbers, need to be BIG to capture a Travis County politician's interest the way their County wells have already captured so much of the available aquifer in eastern Travis County.

Somehow, sitting in their offices at their desks they might be missing the big picture along with the big numbers participating in a transformation that is happening all around us. According to an article in the New York Times recently, the seed supply and nursery folk have already seen this phenomenon all around the country.

With the economy tanking, people are focusing on growing their own food to save money. This has led to a tripling of seed sales in some areas. People who have never raised food crops before are putting in gardens, and large numbers of people who are already gardening are increasing the areas of their property given over to raising food.

My husband and I count ourselves in that number. We have methodically eradicated areas formerly dedicated to St Augustine lawn and replaced that monoculture with what we intend to become self sustaining diverse garden areas filled with plants that will feed the soil, the local flora/fauna, and ourselves, not necessarily in that order. Here are glimpses of what we have replaced our lawn with.
We've even seriously considered a move in our future, going out to a more rural area to try our own hands at raising and providing healthy local food to Austin area markets. And we are not alone there, either.

In an article running this weekend, the Times documents another trend, that of folks leaving high pressure corporate careers to enter into a second career, responsibly raising food as a small source supplier for other locals interested in knowing where - and who - their food is coming from.

As the Tomato Salmonella Scandal enters it's third month, now involving 38 states and claiming at least 887 victims, it becomes increasingly clear that the trust previously placed in large chains and agribusiness concerns to watch our food for us is not only misplaced, it is unfounded. Neither our governmental agencies or the huge agribusiness concerns can - or will - be able to tell us what is being done to our food before we eat it, much less where it came from originally.

All these health risk alerts in concert with more folks raising our own food inevitably leads to an increased awareness of what others who raise food locally are facing. It's just human nature. We always pay more attention to people who are doing whatever we are trying to do.

And once we start paying attention, we will begin to hear about problems small family farms, including Travis County's own organic CSA purveyor, Tecolote Farm, are facing, again. Many people are going to be shocked by what they see and hear.

If you are thinking this seems to be a resurgence of the situation that originally created the need for Willie Nelson and friends' Farm Aid some 21 years ago, you'd be right. Only this go-round, the players are not nameless family farmers in the Midwest, most of whom were driven out of business years ago. Nope, this go-round we are playing the home version of the "Who Can Afford to Farm" game, right here in Travis County.

A lot of folks are going to try and break this out into bumper sticker slogan sized sound bites. County Park Bad:Farmers Good. But this is more complicated than that. A simple good/bad split won't hold water any more than some of the struggling wells in eastern Travis County.

The new park in eastern Travis County is not just a water guzzling enterprise, is it also a hard fought victory for folks who were more typically finding their new neighbors to be cement production outfits or landfill operations. Other than this park, those were the types of enterprises more routinely approved for this out flung area by the NIMBYcentric commissioner's Court.

It is a sad fact that the politicians, along with their more populous and affluent constituents in the western and central regions of the county, have typically treated the eastern sections of Travis county like most of us homeowners do that section behind the fence. Out of sight, out of mind, if I don't see it it doesn't really matter...

Nope. The new park is a great idea. Who wouldn't be in favor of wide expanses of grass being in parks set aside for free public use rather than the more typical grassy areas sitting unused and unavailable all around people's suburban homes?However. While developing a park area is a great idea, that park requires water, and having that park does not in any way justify the egregious wasting of that water. Watering in the heat of the afternoon, letting water run across a parking lot, that all wastes water. Creating large open unshaded stocked fishing ponds that will lose significantly to evaporation, for that matter trying to get any fields established at all in the hottest driest part of the year, these are all practices that don't so much use water as they lose water. Lots of water. Water that is lost in ways that cannot be recaptured and takes it away permanently from others who need it for their livelihood.

Water lost for no good reason that could be used in other ways. Water lost that further depletes the aquifer and eventually will affect all the wells in the area including the ones providing drinking water for most of the folks who will ostensibly benefit the most from having that gorgeous park in their part of the county.

Our economic woes are only beginning. We all need water. We all will have to make tough choices. The county is supposed to be a role model - showing us how to use water properly, especially in hot dry times when the aquifer is not recharged.

As we individual consumers are routinely told by our water providers, when the aquifer falls and temperatures rise, priorities shift. Car washing and lawn watering has to be curtailed. That applies to eastern Travis County and the water used for the public park no less than anybody or anywhere else.

Look at these beautiful vegetables.You tell me how a family is supposed to be able to raise these to sell to hungry folks in other families when they are spending hours hiking up a creek to try and dislodge jams preventing water from reaching their property? Having to haul in expensive water to purify to prepare their crops for market? Or worse yet, spending countless other hours inside meeting rooms trying to determine how to fairly handle the water crisis developing along with the other growth along the FM 969 corridor?

How wounding must it be to have to try and convince others that your farm, and along with your farm, your family, has the right to be allowed to survive?

Find out who your County Commissioner is. Call their offices today and politely let them know you are concerned about the water problems in eastern Travis County.

Let them know you are concerned about the future of Travis County if all the land suitable for food production loses the water support it needs for irrigation and greenhouse watering. Explain to them how you are concerned about food prices and sustainability and you want to know what they are going to do about the wasteful water practices in their parks, especially the Eastern Metropolitan park in the photos shown above.

Then give them a listen and hear what they have to say. They are your elected representatives. This is your county, they are your parks. It's your water, and pretty soon, it will be your wallet that will be opened to pay the price for the water wasted and the food crops lost. Right here in Travis County.

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