For those not in Austin, Johnson’s Backyard Garden (JBG) is a pretty extraordinary operation. What began in 2004 as an actual backyard garden is now a certified-organic farm with a thriving CSA program (and really cool graphics!). Now there are two farm locations covering about 70 acres total. While JBG has grown, they see themselves as more of a big garden with 20 gardeners harvesting everything by hand.
Yesterday, JBG hosted their first River Road farm tour which was open to anyone and everyone. They wanted to show people where their vegetables were grown and share what the farm was all about. Having found about it just the day before, I decided that it sounded like a great opportunity and a perfect way to spend the morning. Evidently
about 40-50 other people “well over 100” others felt the same way! Brenton Johnson himself guided us throughout the farm while stopping to show us beautiful veggies and fill us in on what they do to grow them.
Brenton said that he studied agricultural engineering in college and worked in water conservation for 10 years before farming. With this knowledge and experience, he built wells on the farm and uses a 95% efficient drip irrigation system as the main means for watering. It also helps that the Colorado River runs along the farm and that it feeds into a small aquifer 15-20 feet below the fields. Even with all of these factors, one would think that JBG would have faced some difficulties during the brutal drought in 2011, but Brenton said that it was actually their best year yet. Crazy!
Something that I found really interesting is how they go about fighting pests and diseases organically. They focus on making sure that the plants are getting all the minerals and nutrients needed to be healthy and have strong immune systems, much like how we strive to be healthy. Aren’t those the kind of veggies you want to eat?
On the other hand, they also work to keep a healthy population of pollinating insects. As an example, Brenton explained how broccoli starts out as a flower, so you need happy bees to grow good broccoli. They have a row of sunflowers and other colorful flowers to attract these insects and will soon be adding beehives to the farm.
Overall, Brenton Johnson seems like he is genuinely concerned with feeding the Austin community as best as he can, and it’s exciting to see his farm grow. If you are in Austin, I highly recommend going on the next farm tour, whenever that will be! And of course if you are looking for a CSA program to join, do give these guys a try. I buy their veggies at farmers’ markets and grocery stores and they are delicious!
(And as a disclaimer, I have nothing to do with JBG, I just like what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. I’ve actually been meaning to go volunteer on the farm!)