Eatocracy is in Austin for SXSW and the third installment of the Secret Supper. Live blog coverage begins at 7:30.
"You got to hang out with Toesy? I'm jealous! She's so cool..."
Toesy, as it happens, is a chicken. Mention her name in a throng of Austin food bloggers or chefs, and everyone knows exactly where you spent your morning.
A scant two miles from the beep and thrum of the 25th annual South by Southwest music, film, and interactive conference and festival, a couple of farmers - and their celebrity livestock - are changing the way the city eats, one egg at a time.
It all started with a bag of tomatoes. In 1991, Larry Butler and Carol Ann Sayle, refugees from the real estate and art worlds, respectively, decided that the patch of land that was hogging up a monthly $175 from them in the form of a bank promissory note ought to earn its keep. While Sayle had never done much beyond weekend garden dabbling, and Butler’s family was adamantly “ranchers, not farmers,” the couple decided to pursue their dream of full-time farming. They sowed some seeds and hoped for the best.
It was, perhaps, the smartest decision they ever made. After selling their lettuce, broccoli, carrots and more at the front door of a liquor store for a while – Austin had no farmers markets at the time – Sayle walked over to a small, local grocery store to see if they’d be interested in carrying the produce overflow. Boggy Creek Farm had been exploring more sustainable farming processes and had become USDA certified organic. They’d heard that the proprietor of the store had an interest in that sort of thing, so Sayle figured her chances were good. She handed the produce manager a sack of tomatoes and he bit into one.
“I’ll take everything you’ve got,” he said.
The store owners made a solid bet on Butler and Sayle, and the luck was mutual. That little grocery soon blossomed into the chain now known as Whole Foods, and together, they’ve helped Austin – and the rest of the country – understand what “organic” means, and why it’s important.
“Why would you want to feed poison to people?” exclaims Butler. “Chemicals kill the life of the soil. You want to nourish, not kill.”
Butler is quick to share his expertise with anyone who cares to listen, and listen, they do. The proof is in the produce – the brilliantly hued, heritage Italian lettuces, the sweet, slender carrots and hearty bundles of leeks. “It’s still vibrating with energy,” says Sayle. “This is what fresh is.”
The local chefs agree, and on two weekly market days, they’re out in full force at Boggy Creek’s on-site market stand. Butler appreciates chefs who, as he says, “walk the talk,” and the couple will only eat out at restaurants that buy from them. Their Austin dining options are far from limited. On a recent Saturday morning, chefs from Haddingtons, Mulberry, Asti and Fino restaurants and the Izzoz Tacos trailer were stocking up for service. Not only does the stand sell Boggy Creek’s produce and highly sought-after organic eggs – they also carry and proudly tout dairy, bison, sauerkraut and other goods from nearby farms.
Eric Polzer of Wink restaurant is a fixture at Boggy Creek. Butler says that years ago when Polzer and his partners were looking to open a restaurant, they figured they might as well cut out the middleman and grow the produce themselves. Boggy Creek accepted the chef as an intern and after six months of throwing everything he had into Boggy Creek, he returned to his partners to tell them, look – we know restaurants. Larry and Carol Ann know everything about farming. Let’s make a deal with them – if they don’t open a restaurant, we won’t start a farm.
Butler and Sayle's willingness to share their expertise makes them “ideal Austinites” in the eyes of Austin-American Statesman food writer Addie Broyles. Upon moving to the city five years ago, Broyles quickly came to realize that she was among her people – rejects from other areas of the country who’d come to Austin seeking freedom to just be themselves.
Says Broyles, “People here respect other people’s choices, and they know they, themselves, won’t be judged. People here support and celebrate artists and creativity, and they won’t make fun of you if you fall on your face.” The proprietors of Boggy Creek, who’d taken that leap of faith, themselves are more than willing to support, tout and take under their wings anyone who’s seeking a smarter, more sustainable way of farming.
At the mention of the blight that deprived Northeasterners of nearly all tomatoes two years ago, Butler immediately offers a non-toxic cure of raw milk or compost tea in a foliar spray, and one gets the sense that if he had the time, he’d jet on over with a sprayer and also teach you hand-on how to battle blossom end rot.
According to Broyles, that’s par for the course for Butler and Sayle. There are four urban farms within one square mile of Boggy Creek and they are “BFFs.” Says Broyles, “They’re not threatened, and they’re more than willing to share their wisdom.” She continued, “Carol Ann is the mother hen for these other farmers and she sets a tone of camaraderie.”
The same could be said for Broyles, who recently co-founded the Austin Food Blogger Alliance - a non-profit organization dedicated to galvanizing the city's robust and varied collection of independent publishers. "I didn't know I'd be leading," she says. "They were all just doing their thing, and I suggested having a happy hour to get us all in the same room."
That first gathering led to a potluck dinner, then a Facebook page that gained 500 members in a year. The group recently formed a 501(c)(3) and officially launched austinfoodbloggers.org to advance their three-pronged mission of social networking, educational classes for bloggers who want to improve their photography skills, search engine optimization or design, and community outreach.
The last one is par for the course for Austin, says Broyles. It’s the seat of state government and people come to Austin to be heard. Activism abounds in the state capital, and the bloggers put their money where their mouths are. In April of 2010, members of the Facebook page took part in a Hunger Awareness Project, researching how much a Capital Area Food Bank patron and food stamp recipient would have to work with, then living within - and blogging about - those means for an entire week.
The meld of altruism and creative ambition is characteristic of Austin chefs, as well, says Broyles. Chef Zack Northcutt of Haddingtons and Mulberry – a frequent Boggy Creek customer, himself – hosts a “Meaty Monday Madness” gathering for his chef friends from restaurants around the city. The restaurant scene, by all accounts, is shockingly free of infighting and nasty competition.
Broyles chalks this up to both Austin’s chilled out ethos and the mutual respect the chefs have for one another. “They’re not out there showing off their feathers,” she says. “They’re all humble. They could just as easily be in New York, but they really want to be here.”
Chefs from white tablecloth establishments, food trucks and trailers alike can be found crowded around Northcutt’s backyard smoker, testing out recipes that the chef admits, “will never make it only any of our restaurants,” swigging beer (“It’s what you use to time the meat!”) and celebrating the evening’s theme. Any Baby Can...Be Delicious or the Celebration of Pig and Bourbon can bring upwards of 50 chefs into Northcutt’s backyard, and he’s just happy to get a chance to hang out with his friends outside of their restaurants.
“I never think, ‘what do I want to eat tonight?’ It’s always, ‘Who do I want to see tonight?’”
If pressed – and if one’s not stayed out swining and dining too late the night before, Boggy Creek Farm would be a great place to run into just about anyone in the Austin food scene. The chefs, the bloggers, the other farmers, and the wide variety of customers from around the region who come in Porsches and on beat-up bikes come because they know the produce is just-picked fresh, organically grown, and exquisitely flavorful.
There are also the eggs, laid by Boggy Creek’s flock of free-ranging, organically-fed (including crab for extra Omega 3s and always without soy) and, to the casual observer, extremely happy chickens. Unlike many small chicken farms, the birds aren’t slaughtered once they’re no longer laying eggs – “It’s a retirement home for chickens!” jokes Sayle – so Aunt Droptail, age 17, mingles freely with farm favorites Babette and the famous Toesy, so called because she’s got a mild foot deformation. That doesn’t stop her from following Sayle as she drives the tractor up and down the rows – just hopping alongside.
People flock to Boggy Creek for the produce and the coveted (only six to a customer, please!) eggs, but even if they’re not planning on spending any cash, they’re welcome to roam the fields and sit by the open chicken coop. Sayle says that families and even solo poultry enthusiasts will just spend a quiet (save for the clucking of the flock) hour or two just hanging out, being one with the nature abounding around them.
As Sayle says, “It’s just very…Austin.”
Thank you so much for sharing this story of someone working to bring food production to urban areas and for sharing it in a manner that does not heavily criticize other methods of food production.
You may be interested in my story of food production. I share my experiences in cattle production straight from the pasture on my blog, http://www.AgricultureProud.com. Check it out and let me know what you think.
Thank YOU for bringing a positive comment to this section. My Evil Sister and her husband :) farm in their urban backyard and I am SO proud of them. They live 20 minutes from downtown, have 4 plots, 3 compost bins, 2 rain barrels and he's learning how to be a bee-keeper. They are definitely urban farmers of the best sort.
Boggy Creek is a great urban farm, and it's nice to see Carol Ann and Larry get the recognition. They've been good business neighborhoods for Austin.
Shameless plug if you are in Austin and want to see the farm up close and taste the food. There is a Boggy Creek Farm Picnic bicycle ride this Saturday, March 19 that includes a tour of the farm with their farm tour guide and a 3 course meal prepared with ingredients from the farm. We include bike rental if you need a bike: http://livingontwowheels.com/boggycreekride.html
The term Organic is a mere marketing tool, designed and promoted by marketing people. Sure, the concepts of no insecticides and hormones may be all good, but that beat in the food chain has been going on for centuries. What people are not aware of is that a vegetable can meet all the marketing requirements to be called organic and yet be just as carcinogenic or contaminated by insecticides as a non organic vegetable.
What i laugh at all the time is items like salt being called pure organic, especially when it is purely inorganic no matter how pure it gets.
Beware, just because you are eating organic, does not mean you are eating healthy.
They garden. They farm. Whaddaya know, farm-raised eggs without toxins are good. My parents have great organic berries in their garden. Can we be in an article? (And I say this as a huge supporter of the local foods movement – enough of the hoity-toity, celebrity farmer, celebrity chef, celebrity livesotck (?) stuff!)
No offense to the subjects of this article, what they're doing sounds great, and I suppose many people need this kind of person to get them into farming and fresh foods. But changing the image of keeping chickens from being a "hick" to being part of the "food world" really isn't the best way to go about this.
Too bad you have never met them. L and C are kind and good people and have been living in east Austin long time before gentrification started breaking out in pockets. Maybe you remember someone like that from your childhood?
Oh my ChrisPCockroach. We would but it seems your mom already beat us to it.
AUSTIN SUCKS, DON'T MOVE HERE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I love Boggy Creek. You have to be an early bird. Sleep in a little on Saturday & you'll miss out on the offerings.
circlegirle, i don't wanna miss what you're offering.
Typical of some Austinites to hate on other Texas cities, most of which are from those cities. I think it is called Austintude in the urban dictionary. Grew up in Houston, loved Austin when I moved there 17 years ago but it has lost it's luster with the population boom, the bums at every intersection, and the rampant hipster douchebaggery. Still enjoy patronizing the restaurants, the live music, the Alamo Drafthouse, the festivals, and what's left of the natural beauty. So now I say: enjoy Austin, live in Hutto.
Why don't all of you just go and suck an organic egg, grow up, and live happily ever after in all of your wonderful cities of choice?? Austin, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio....they're all cesspools. Just as NYC, Boston, LA, Chicago, etc..are. This entire article is so completely unnecessary and un-inspiring, just as are all of your childish blah- blah- blogs.
So ... what part of Nirvana do you hail from, troll?
What would you pretentious jerks at CNN know about the Austin food scene? You are tucked away in your 'exclusive' SXSW Grill eating foie gras and sushi imported from far away, while the rest of us locals and our kind visitors are out supporting the community. Hope you don't choke on your beef tartare!
Who's being pretentious again? Austintude at it's finest.
Wow! Is that the kind of hospitality one can expect when they visit your fine city? I do hope that you're on the Tourism and Visitors' Bureau with your sunny disposition and all.
Huh? I didn't see a scrap of sushi, foie gras or tartare in the place and all of us working there were hitting as many food trucks and trailers as we possibly could. I assure you, between the CNN employees eating around town and the rental of the place, CNN pumped a heck of a lot of cash into the town.
When we're in a town, we seek out the local stuff.
We need this to happen in Kansas city. We have a good gardening program which is taking off. Maybe we really need a web that ties restaurants markets and customers all together.
I would consider traveling to Austin just to try these eggs....
A little grocery store??? It was publicly traded on the NASDAQ less then a year from the time these 2 started farming. The story is good enough without having to exaggerate the situation.
I live in Houston and can attest to the fact that it does suck greatly. It's ugly, flat, smog-tastic, non existant recycling, and has not one even remotely good radio station. SiriusXM has a ton of Houston customers. Arcade Fire left for Canada and wrote an entire album about how much Houston sucks. Houston's version of good music is Slim Thug and Trae the Truth. DEEP STUFF THAT IS.
You obviously don't know the Houston music scene whatsoever. Arcade Fire = silver spoon whiners.
Austin can be said to have something for everyone, its a little dot of blue in a sea of red. I lived there in the north but hung out in the south of it mostly. 6th has been very worked over by chain bars and such but red river, warehouse district were still untouched for the most part before i left Texas. You can complain of hipsters but they have always been there and make austin what she is. If you prefer other parts of Texas i.e. Houston Dallas San Antonio thats fine been there done that but nothing can take away from the draw that Austin holds for those that many have for her.
@Anita – having 5 or 6 chickens in something small enough to be wheeled around is cruel. Build those sweet feathery ladies a proper henhouse to thank them for those delicious eggs!
Ha! Have you ever chicken at a grocery store Lara? Do you think they are treated nice at the chicken plant? Yet, you still eat your chicken wings watching games and fried eggs in the morning. Get over yourself.
Did you ever buy a purple chicken at the dime store for Easter? Anyone old enough to remember what a "dime store" is? Now, that's cruel...
Not really, It could easily be a two-story coop. Plus, there are many different breeds of chicken and some are quite small. A friend of mine has several different varieties ranging from some that weigh about a pound, to larger ones that weigh five pounds or more.
San Antonio is so much better than Austin or Houston, Diabetes is the best!
I LOVE Austin!!!! I can't wait to get out of uptight Dallas...Soon!
We'll be waiting for you Michelle, just stop by 6th street. Don't forget the tight skirt and black boots. :)
It is so funny to read these comments. "My city is the best!" "No my city is the best" You're adults. Get some perspective in life
My dog's better than your dog...
# 8 ? Not leeks – scallions, green onions or spring onions depending where you live. But leeks? Not.
Whatever is right. Overrated is right. Commercialized is right. Don't come here or visit here ever please.In fact, don't even respond to articles on that place, that'll teach 'em. Lame is right (oh, that one's from me).
You need to go back to school.
See what I mean?
This article is eggcelent and eggstremely interesting.
What an eggregious comment!
Austin is overrated crap. SXSW, the greenbelts, Zilker, etc... it's all now commercialized garbage, whether it's North or South. You can find pothead hipsters in any city. The other half of the city is filled with people like... well, Google "Alexandra Wallace UCLA" and you'll get the point. Don't forget... it's still part of Texas, which is aspiring to follow Arizona's footsteps on immigration. Yes, it's suuuuch an open-minded foodie place to live. Whatever.
You can join Jeffrey in Houston. I'm sure you'll be very happy there.
Houston puts Austin to shame any day. Yes, Austin is the live music capital. But nobody said it was good music.
As for arts and sciences, Houston tops Austin by far. Austin is full of naive, judgemental, liberals that live in a fairy tale.
It's a shame that Austin has been ruined by these types of people.
Jeffy, thanks for your naive, judgemental comment.
Artemis Black, your reply doesn't make sense.
You two need to get a room and b@ng out your issues.
Jeffrey, please stay in Houston. Austin doesn't care for you either.
I'm a native Austinite, and Austin has changed over the years, but what city hasn't?
I've been to many great cities, but none compare to Austin, and I always love coming home!
Actually, quite many have said it's good music, and it is. I think you've been inhaling too much lead-tainted Houston smog to know any better.
so where is the love for san antonio?
Jeffrey, I don't know how any health-conscious person could honestly live in Houston with its Grand POLLUTION problems! I was there for a short three months and had to move away quickly as have many others. The crime rate there is awful also. Austin is so much cleaner, smaller, eclectic, and appears to be a great alternative and the people are very friendly! And let's not forget the Movie Studios that have relocated to Austin as well as many movie stars who live there!
For Larry and Carol –
HOW ARE YOU? Remember Highland Avenue? I could not believe when I read your names just now.
I'm in Seattle, (Bob's in Anchorage about to retire) and it would be so great to hear from you.
email or find me on face book. I'd love to catch up with you.
You guys rock.
I have lived in Houston, Corpus Christi, North Austin and South Austin (currently).South Austin is BEST by far!
That is so funny.... I have also lived in Houston, South Austin, North Austin and currently live in Corpus Christi... You sound just like me!!! I have to say I liked North Austin the best, but that was back in the mid to late 70's when Austin rocked.... Now, you couldn't pay me to live there. HORRIBLE traffic. Not the sleepy little funky town it used to be. It's lost it's charm...So I'll stick with Corpus for now...
"then a Facebook page that gained 500 members in a year."
Right, how many inhabitants does the USA has got? I think it are a few more then 500........
Wow if you love Austin and chickens in your backyard visit http://www.meetup.com/AustinBackyardPoultry/
When Tosey hits chicken menopause, they'll gas her for dog food. Stop making it sound cutesy.
Time for some reading comprehension brush-up, Jules. Hint: search for "age 17."
Artemis Black, your reply doesn't make sense. And your name is fake, like your thoughts.
Um, actually, Artemis made PERFECT sense.
These people had a 17 year old chicken. Well past her egg laying prime.
If you read it...
Nothing wrong with treating the animals that provide sustenance for us with a little bit of humanity.
I'm raising chickens this spring. Just 5 or 6. The neighbors don't mind – they want the eggs. I've got one of those movable coops that roll around like a wheelbarrow. What I really want is a couple of those French Guinea Hens that peep and some fuzzy ones that look like guinea pigs. Chickens aren't very noisy and they aren't messy at all and their manure is the best compost on the planet. I can't wait to see my Heirloom Cherokee Purples, Collards, Beans, Peas, Squash, Peppers, Herbs, Radishes, Carrots, etc. Luckily we have local farmers' markets with lady peas and sweet corn and boiled peanuts but I want to try my hand at potatoes and strawberries. The little strawberries. French ones that are sweet. Blueberries are already starting to look good. The pollen is coming out and my bulbs are coming up. I gotta go to the beach! Going to NOLA for some oysters in June. Want to beat my personal best at Acme Oyster House of 64 at one sitting. If you go, please try the Bloody Mary at Ralph and Kakoo's. I don't know if it was because I was hungry or what but it was a generous pour of good vodka, lots of thick tomato juice, finely chopped celery, lots and lots of horseradish, lots of Wooster, some Celery Salt, lots of black pepper and a nice crunch Celery Stick AND it had a salted rim. Now, when I make Gazpacho I just re-create the thing and put in scallops, shrimp, conch, whatever. People say it is the best ever. In the winter I heat it and serve it as tomato soup with Grilled Cheese Sandwiches or (my famous) Grilled Mac n' Cheese. Yes, friends. Take leftover M&C, put a little flour in it, put it in a waffle iron and cook till it doesn't steam any more. It tastes just like the good stuff that oozes out of a M&C only you can pick the whole thing up and dunk it. Award winning, if I do say so myself.
Ew. Chicken poop.
I wish I lived in Austin. Houston blows :(
Yes Katie, Houston blows but Corpus Christi sucks!
Who is this Christ? . . .and where can I find her ;)
Please. Austin is such a load of crap. It is a sad shadow of its former self. Everything that made it good is long gone, and in its place is garbage like The Domain.
Get out while you can. It's a sucking cesspool of consumerism dressed up in hipsterism and kitsch.
You mean The Domain, the outdoor retail mall and apartment complex roughly 20 miles north of anything that was considered Austin back in the 80's or whenever you thought you were cool? Stay in South Austin where the hipsters are, I'll stay in North Austin where the jobs are.
The Austin job market is booming, but the competition is fierce. I didn't realize the competitive nature of panhandling, until my most recent trip thru Austin revealed a two-bum minimum at every intersection along I-35, and four on weekends. A'Salaam alaikum, ya'll.
Charles – You probably work for Apple as a tech support nerd, you probably go home and play world of warcraft and then cruise internet porn by yourself. You could live in Plano, or Topeka, or Phoenix and it wouldn't matter. You are probably one of those tourists in a tiedyed keep austin weird t-shirt and fanny pack that clog the streets off S. Congress when I try to get out of my neighborhood. We really don't need you or anyone north of 51st street. Go back to California or whatever culture-less hobbit hole you emanate from. DEFEND SOUTH AUSTIN!
"SoCo" grosses me out way more than the Domain. I think I threw up just typing "SoCo." At least the Domain was created out of warehouse wasteland; SoCo has transmorgified into a twisted Cali-hipster themepark.
Aatami, please consider carefully that not everone in the most populous, wealthiest, most naturally beautiful, number one agricultural producing, film/music/tech/science producing state is a douchebag tourist. I'm guessing that everything in Texas is smaller and pettier where you are from, hater. May your organic free range hipster taco have a booger in it.
Artemis, you threw up cause you haven't cleaned your little 250 sq. ft. apartment. And stop living off your mom.
YAY!!! I <3 my city. Austin rocks!!!
Hey Alan, I think I remember you from jr. high school. Isn't your middle name Brownstaininyer?
Wow. That was really funny. Did you think that all by yourself? I can't stop laughing......... at you.
Artemis, stop looking in the mirror.
I found the teaser link to this article misleading. It says "Changing Austin, One egg at a time." When really is should be more like "Keeping Austin, Austin. One egg at a time" :)
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