Local Vendor Spotlight: Johnson’s Backyard Garden
As part of Wheatsville’s BIG Direction, we work to grow relationships with local farmers, creating good local jobs and providing more local, sustainably grown food for our shoppers with the end result a happier, healthier Austin. One of our key partners in this endeavor is Johnson’s Backyard Garden. Owner Brenton Johnson started this farm in his tiny Holly Street backyard back in 2004. Now the farm sits on 186 acres just east of downtown right along the Colorado River. JBG vegetables are 100% organic, meaning no toxic compounds for you or your family. During the height of the growing season, literally dozens of vegetables from JBG are available at Wheatsville seven days a week: sweet carrots, deep green heads of broccoli, bundles of greens of all kinds, beautiful, glossy zucchini and mounds of root vegetables are a treat for the eye and the taste buds. You can even pickup your CSA share at either of the Wheatsville locations, making a one-stop shopping experience.
1. Why did you decide to farm in Austin?
I didn’t really decide to farm in Austin... it kind of happened by accident! While working for the government in Wyoming, I came to Austin on a business trip and immediately feel in love with the culture. When I was looking for a place to move, Austin seemed like the great fit! I moved to Austin, and so naturally my hobby moved with me--gardening. When I moved into a house on Holly Street, I started a garden and slowly started bringing my produce to the Downtown Farmers’ market to make a few extra bucks. This hobby got a little out of control, and over the course of a few years, gardening turned into farming, and our CSA was born.
2. What new produce items are you growing or planning to grow?
We love to try and grow new varieties.. it helps keep things interesting around here! This year, we planted over 100 pecan trees at the farm, over 100 Asian persimmons, as well as a lot of pears, figs, and pomegranates.We also planted some Muscadines– a grape variety that is native to the Southern U.S. In the Southeast (where I’m from), Muscadines are used to make wine, preserves, and even fresh juice. Because they’re a native species, they are really resilient and pest resistant. This year we also planted lots of new pepper varieties. This past summer season, we also tried a lot of new tomato varieties (and planted over 50,000 plants!), many of which made their way onto the Wheatsville shelves as well as the deli. We had a lot of success with some of the new cherry and slicing tomato varieties we tried out, and they will make their way into our crop plans for years to come.
3. What is your favorite produce that is in season in October?
Some of my October favorites include sweet potatoes, collards, okra, hot peppers.. maybe you can see a theme? I really like all the produce that lends itself well to Southern cooking. Right now, I’m battling a hot pepper addiction. This year, we went a little crazy with peppers and planted a ton of new varieties, many of which are Arc of Taste varieties that Slow Food International is working to promote and preserve for future generations. Some of these include Hinklehatz, Cherry Bomb, Beaver Dam, Jimmy Nardello (Anaheim), Wenk’s Yellow Hot, Sheepnose Pimento, and Texas Bird’s Eye Pequin.
4. What are your biggest crops?
Our biggest crops are kale and carrots.
5. What are your favorite things about Wheatsville Co-op?
This is a hard one! We love Wheatsville for so many reasons, all stemming from the fact that you guys are one of our best customers. Your commitment to buying locally is like a huge hug from the Austin community—even in the hardest seasons, we know that you guys will be there to buy our produce and help get seasonal produce into hungry Austin mouths. We love that you guys are able to provide such a unique grocery-store experience on the store-front side (with amazing customer service), and then also provide such an enjoyable experience working with your produce buyers from the “back-end”. You are always willing to listen to our needs as farmers, and are always there as a reliable outlet for our produce--even helping us push produce that isn’t the most popular. We love that when we make deliveries or even stop in the store as customers, we always end up getting to sample fresh fruit. We also love that local agriculture makes the list of local causes you guys support (like your support of Farmshare Austin).. you truly put your money where your mouth is, and are constantly giving back to the Austin community. Last but certainly not least, we love that you guys host a CSA Pickup for us on Thursdays and Fridays.
Thanks to Ada Broussard, JBG’s CSA and Marketing Manager, who facilitated getting answers to our questions. Photos by David Scott Gordon.