New Digs

It’s becoming increasingly rare to find undeveloped land for lease in Austin, so when Max Elliott found a city-owned plot not yet claimed, he jumped at the chance to use the land in a way that would benefit the surrounding community.

Elliott, executive director of local nonprofit Urban Roots, was supported in pursuing the land for the nonprofit by Austin City Council members Delia Garza and Kathie Tovo. Last winter, after debating for years what to do with the plot, City Council unanimously approved a long-term lease for Urban Roots to use the site as a second farm.

The addition of the nine-acre tract provides an exciting possibility for the evolution of the farm-based youth leadership organization. Their current property along Boggy Creek is nearly a third smaller and located in a floodplain. “It's really exciting to live in a city that is investing in urban agriculture,” Elliott says. “We take this opportunity that the city council members have given us really seriously.”

Fittingly, the plot used to be pasture land for a dairy in the 1950s, so with this lease, there is a return to its agricultural roots. Currently, Urban Roots grows 25,000 pounds of food each year and donates 40 percent of that to local food pantries and soup kitchens. This new site will double that production. The land, located in Dove Springs, is just an empty expanse of field for now — the perfect blank slate on which to build a farm.

“We want to be thoughtful coming in as a new neighbor, so we're going to create a youth-led community engagement process where young people will get the chance to understand the strengths and assets in that neighborhood, listen to the community and see where there are opportunities for Urban Roots to collaborate with existing organizations,” Elliott says.

When envisioning the future of the site, Elliott hopes it will become a communal hub for the Urban Roots youth, volunteers and Austinites who simply want to learn more about food and farming. “We'd like for this to be a model for other cities, to really demonstrate sustainability and create a welcoming and inclusive space for people to really connect with where their food comes from,” he says.

For now, Urban Roots youth will work with the folks in Dove Springs to plan the best possible site for the community, while also planting cover crops and building up the soil to prepare the 3.5 acres reserved for farmland on the site. If you’re interested in assisting Urban Roots during this transition period, Elliott has some simple advice: “Visit us on the farm and at the farmers market … You'll get a chance to interact and work alongside Urban Roots youth leaders, and they're the ones that really embody the spirit of our work.”

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By Darby Kendall • Photography by Bonnie & Lauren Photography