By Jeremy Walther
Many of us in the Central Texas community seek out and utilize local food outlets because we value the work of organic farmers, we refuse to trade health for cheap food and we understand the importance of sustainability. At the same time, we don’t feign immunity to the seemingly endless choices offered by the convenience of mainstream markets and outlets. We want the best of both worlds.
The Bountiful Sprout (TBS) gets it.
Conceived in 2007 by a small group of people who are passionate about healthy food and locally sustainable economies and communities, TBS’s innovative model combines the positive components of community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs, wholesale markets, farmers markets and local food delivery services, and weeds out the not-so-great parts.
“When I was managing the Wimberley Farmers’ Market, I often heard the frustrations from both sides,” explains TBS founder Heather Carter. “It was a pain for farmers, and customers would stop coming when selection went down seasonally. I love going to farmers markets, and still regularly shop them, but wanted to create a model that could draw in new people who aren’t interested in going to four or five different places to get their groceries every week. Out of that, The Bountiful Sprout was born.”
Carter and her husband, Marc Gitterle, along with a group of local folks with similar goals, organized a board of directors and got to work. Gitterle discovered an open-source software program developed by a food co-op in Oklahoma, adapted it and with input from the TBS board, created a web-based market of all locally produced goods.
“[TBS’s] online system is extremely easy to use for both producers and consumers,” says Joan Chisholm of Chisholm Cattle Company, a TBS producer who raises natural Angus and Wagyu beef in Wimberley. “They offer simple, one-stop shopping for a wide variety of natural and organic products, and help small local producers get started and thrive.”
TBS’s software automates many accounting and labeling functions for producers, allows them to set their own prices and helps them share details of their sustainability, husbandry and production methods. But here’s the best part from a producer’s perspective: because of the low overhead, zero waste and maximum efficiency of the TBS model, producers keep 92 percent of their sales.
“I think TBS’s method of charging a percentage can be a very appropriate model for certain producers,” says member Lance Clark of Richardson Farms, who raises grassfed beef, pastured pork and poultry and specialty grains. “It really benefits those smaller farmers who don’t sell very much, and allows them to keep more money in their pockets.”
But offering a unique avenue for smaller local producers to sell their goods isn’t the only goal of TBS. They also make efforts to support existing markets.
“There are some farmers who actually list their CSA boxes on TBS’s website,” says Carter. “For those folks, TBS is another way to market their already-established CSA programs to customers who might not otherwise know about them. This way, a customer can get all their veggies from a CSA box, plus local honey from another producer, meat from another, bread from another, dog food, corn meal, jewelry, eggs . . . all at the same time and with the click of a mouse.”
Adding another dimension to the existing local food market doesn’t just benefit producers; it also attracts customers who don’t regularly shop at existing farmers markets, use local food delivery services or subscribe to a CSA program.
“TBS keeps me off the streets,” says Terri Burney-Bisett of Wimberley, one of TBS’s first customers. “Occasionally I shop in San Marcos, and a few times a year will go to Austin. With TBS, I have the convenience of shopping right from home, anytime, at my convenience.”
Carter is quick to note that TBS seeks to enhance—not compete with—the existing local food market. “We aren’t trying to compete with established markets; we’re trying to help them!” she says. “Central Texas has a rich, vibrant community of people who grow and make high-quality products, and a large proportion of consumers here are eager to support them. The TBS model offers a way to connect local producers with consumers in a truly sustainable way.”
The Bountiful Sprout currently has pick-up locations in Wimberley and Fredericksburg, and a third site in Austin is planned soon.
To learn more about The Bountiful Sprout, and to get a peek at the inventory for the current ordering cycle, visit bountifulsprout.com.