Green Thumbs Unite!

by Steve Wilson

Financially speaking, there’s no profit in backyard gardening. You can’t grow enough to sell at a farmers market, so you have to give away your surplus before it goes bad. All that sweat and toil just to inundate the neighbors with free tomatoes? There’s got to be a better way.

That’s the reasoning behind Austin’s Yard to Market Co-op, a group uniting 30-plus organic gardeners under one name (and one farmers market tent) to sell their produce together. “We’re in that space for people who grow enough to reach beyond their own home but who aren’t going to buy ten acres of land and start a farm,” says Annelies Lottmann, director of operations.

She and six other gardeners who met through the Urban Patchwork and Texas Master Gardener programs banded together to launch the group in late 2013. Gardeners who join up don’t have to do a whole lot beyond growing their food organically. In return, the co-op handles their marketing, sales and distribution, and provides discounts on seedlings, compost and other supplies (such as T-shirts reading “Talk Dirt to Me”). Co-op owners take home as much as 80 percent of their own sales from the co-op’s stand at HOPE Farmers Market every Sunday, while participating non-co-op members typically take home 50 percent of their sales.

That’s great for the gardeners, but what do the customers get out of it? More choice, says Managing Director Lesley Williamson. “Gardeners grow crazy unique varieties of fruits, vegetables, nuts and herbs that farmers don’t necessarily mess with, and eggs too,” she says. Indeed, when was the last time you saw quail and duck eggs at the grocery? You may just find half a dozen of each at the co-op’s booth, alongside shiso (an herb used widely in Japanese cuisine) and other exotic herbs.

Customers who buy from the co-op also have the satisfaction of knowing they’re helping what may be the first gardener co-op of its kind in the nation, according to Williamson. “We follow a democratic model, and people are excited about being part of that and supporting us.”

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