Resort to Farming

Offering a seasonal menu full of the freshest fruits, vegetables, herbs and meats available from area farms and ranchers has always been a priority for local resort Travaasa Austin. But a year and a half ago, the hotel took that concept one step further with a commitment to produce much of their food on-site. 

“Having a farm here was a way of experimenting—kind of taking that farm-to-table idea to the next level, and really trying to see what we could do with the resources we have on the property,” says Kim Grabosky, the former farm manager of Johnson’s Backyard Garden and the current manager of Travaasa’s new 3.25-acre farm. “This is an opportunity for us to grow the freshest food we can and also to use as many of the resources from the hotel that might otherwise be wasted.”

Though the farm is only in its second growing season, Grabosky and an assistant have managed to transform a mostly empty field in a valley at the edge of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve into a diverse, permaculture-inspired organic farm that, last year, produced about 5,000 pounds of food—including an array of vegetables, fruits, edible flowers, medicinal herbs and more. In addition, a flock of nearly 100 hens now serves as the exclusive provider of free-range chicken eggs for the restaurant, as well as a major source of fertilizer and pest control for the farm, and Grabosky recently added 20,000 bees to the mix. Now that the new residents are settled in and busy at work, she says she’s focused on saving seeds and improving the fertility of the land through no-till farming, composting and mulching the beds with organic cover crops and hay.  

The farm also serves as a learning opportunity for guests, who are invited for tours, dinners and classes on diverse subjects, such as seed-starting, chicken-keeping, pickling and medicinal herbs. Grabosky says that while the classes are mostly introductory, their impact can be far-reaching. “We have people who aren’t very connected to their food system, so though it might seem pretty small, it’s a big first step,” she says.

Of course, the main focus of the farm is to provide food for the kitchen, and Grabosky says Chef Benjamin Baker has been more than willing to creatively incorporate the offerings—from using a row of savoy cabbages for kimchee to a bunch of carrot tops for pesto. “I’ve brought up wild amaranth, and I ask, Can you use this? And he says, Yeah, OK,” Grabosky says with a laugh. “Whatever we have, he’s into it.”

For his part, Baker says it’s been great to have this kind of access to food grown with such integrity. “Kim’s giving us some amazing beets, sugar snap peas, some great carrots, beautiful edible flowers and herbs,” he says. “Just being able to get my hands on those ingredients and work with them, to me, is really a high honor.”—Nicole Lessin

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