This past year brought challenges, change, and growth for our organization. As we entered year two of a global pandemic, our staff continued to work remotely, programs adapted to meet community needs, and essential aspects of our work like the weekly SFC Farmers’ Markets continued to operate safely in-person. We celebrated milestones that have helped transform the food system. As we prepare to welcome in the new year, join us in revisiting some of the most impactful moments we experienced as an organization in 2021.
SFC staff meet with The Common Market, a food access partner in Houston.
2021 in Review: Transforming the food system to nourish our health, land, and livelihood
WINTER: RESPONDING TO UNEXPECTED CHALLENGES
The beginning of the year brought some of the most difficult challenges we have faced as a community. As we entered another calendar year marked by the Covid-19 pandemic, Central Texas saw a rise in cases and hospitalizations in January. Shortly after, the state was devastated by Winter Storm Uri, one of the deadliest and costliest winter storms ever recorded in North America.
Several days of sub-freezing temperatures and consecutive ice storms lead to infrastructural breakdowns, unexpected suffering, and tragic loss of lives. In the face of these hardships, communities throughout the region organized to meet the needs of those most severely affected. Resiliency, support, and generosity shone through during this most difficult time.
A snow-covered field at Flameleaf farm during the winter storm.
In the midst of Winter Storm Uri, SFC mobilized to solicit donations to help farmers recover through our Farmer Relief Fund, which garnered $18,000 in the first 10 days alone. Post-storm, SFC raised more than $275,000 thanks to ongoing donations and generous commitments from foundations and developed a disaster relief strategy to provide support to farmers who didn’t have anyone else to turn to. Out of this we developed the Farmers of Color Relief and Resiliency Fund, established to address historic inequities in resources available to farmers of color, which distributed $82,000 to 14 applicants. Together, SFC’s winter storm relief funds reached 72 farmers and ranchers in 23 counties across the state.
After the storm, the sun returned, the ground thawed, and we assessed the damage. As a community, we evaluated the circumstances that lead to such great losses and called for action to be taken to adapt to future climate crises. Just as winter gives way to allow for new birth in the spring, the next season brought growth and abundance to SFC.
SPRING: A SEASON FOR GROWTH
With spring came a surge of growth through our programs and fundraising efforts. Each March we look forward to Amplify Austin, a city-wide day of giving. 2021 brought the most successful Amplify Austin to date for our organization. We exceeded our goal of $22,000, raising over $34,000 to support our mission and programs. We’re so thankful for everyone’s support that made this possible!
Twice a year, we host a Spread the Harvest Resource Giveaway Day that provides free gardening resources to home and group gardens in Central Texas. This spring, we kicked off the planting season by reaching new heights. We distributed free gardening resources to 433 Spread the Harvest member gardens, including 3,900 plants and 1,800 cubic-foot bags of compost, which was a new record for the number of gardens served at a Resource Giveaway Day. Additionally, our virtual The Happy Kitchen/La Cocina Alegre and Introduction to Food Gardening classes started back up for another successful season.
Maya, an SFC staff member, organizes plants for distribution at the Spread the Harvest Resource Giveaway Day.
Spring also brought new hope as Covid-19 vaccinations started to become available. In March, our Sunset Valley SFC Farmers’ Market site temporarily became a vaccination hub. For several weeks, we invited all vendors to join us at our Downtown location, creating a thriving, bustling atmosphere. We’re in awe that an estimated 97,000 visitors supported our markets between July 2020 and June 2021! Rain or shine, we look forward to seeing our vendors, staff, customers, volunteers, and sponsors at markets each week and are so thankful for your support.
In May, the SFC Garden Party marked our first major in-person fundraiser since the beginning of the pandemic. The event was held in a safe outdoor setting, and we were lucky enough to have a beautiful day to accompany the party held amidst the gorgeous greenery at Barr Mansion. We raised over $180,000 through the event and supported our local farmers and chefs in the process.
An attendee's picnic set up at our spring Garden Party.
SUMMER: CELEBRATING SUCCESSES
Things tend to slow down just a bit at SFC over the summer, as our educational programming takes a break, and the fiscal year ends. Our annual financial audit went well this year, and the financial position of the organization continues to be stable while supporting the growth of our programs into future years.
Summer brought with it several grants that are essential to our work. Since July 1, we have been awarded 14 grants, worth more than $1,434,000 including three federal grants:
Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program COVID Relief and Response (GusCRR)
This grant provides $650,000 over three years to secure the continuation of our Food Access Work, such as Double Up West Texas, which includes the first 4 grocery retail sites in Texas. The award will also support the scaling of SFC’s Food Access Help Desk and Farmshare Austin’s Fresh for Less Curbside Delivery Program.
Food access programs like Fresh for Less mobile markets can expand thanks to the GusCRR grant we've received.
Farm to School
In August, SFC was awarded a USDA Farm to School Grant to support our Supply Chain initiatives. In Collaboration with several partners, we will increase the amount of fresh, healthy, local food available in Central Texas schools. This project aims to increase local food procurement in local schools, uses a series of metrics to help schools achieve long term goals, and expands farm-to-school programs across Texas.
Specialty Crop Block
This grant is a larger award that comes after a successful two-year pilot and supports the expansion of our supply chain matchmaking work, an effort to strengthen local supply chains. Through this project, SFC and its project partners aim to develop a pipeline between specialty crop producers and wholesale buyers. Our matchmaking work provides training and support to farmers across Texas to grow their business and connect to new buyers.
Advocacy: Healthy Soils, Vehicle Asset Test and Senior Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
As part of our new vision, SFC has committed to advancing policies that support regenerative agriculture and small and mid-size family farmers and makes the bounty of our region available to everyone, especially those who are affected by systemic inequities. We do this at the federal, state, and local levels.
During Texas’ 87th Legislative Session, there were a few major wins in policy for local agriculture and food access at the state-wide level that SFC had advocated for. The Healthy Soils Bill passed, which helps rebuild Texas’ soils and move forward in our nation’s efforts to mitigate climate change. This bill provides training and incentives to farmers to help them improve the health of their soils.
The Healthy Soils bill will help improve soil quality and sustainability for Texas farmers.
There are many factors that determine SNAP (government food assistance) eligibility. In Texas, one of these factors is a Vehicle Asset Test, which is a limit placed on the value of the vehicles that a household may own and still qualify for the program. This legislation modernized the Vehicle Asset Test through HB2641 and SB1914. The test was updated to reflect the price of cars today more accurately by applying an inflation adjustment to current limits. This will create more access to SNAP benefits for low-income Texans who rely on vehicles for their transportation.
Lastly, Senior SNAP or SB224 creates a simplified certification and recertification process for SNAP participants who are senior citizens and/or people with disabilities living on fixed incomes. Before the pandemic, Texas had the fifth-highest rate of senior food insecurity in the country, but some of the lowest rates of senior participation in the SNAP program. This legislation will impact the lives of some of our most vulnerable community members.
FALL: FOSTERING COMMUNITY CONNECTIONS
Over the final few months of the year, we’ve connected with community members and partners through our classes, site visits, conferences, and events.
The fall marks the return of our educational programs and this year, we had a total of 85 active participants in our virtual The Happy Kitchen/La Cocina Alegre class series. This marks the highest attendance in one season since we’ve begun offering these classes in a virtual format in fall of 2020. Through H-E-B curbside pick-up and grocery delivery, we reached participants in 4 different counties in the Central Texas region.
Candyce and Anne, two Happy Kitchen facilitators, prepare recipes from our Fresh Seasonal Recipes cookbook for virtual class video demos.
Our staff also seek out educational opportunities through conference participation and professional development. Two SFC staff were invited to the National Grocers Association Annual Show in Las Vegas this year. This trade show for independent retailers now includes programming and content specific to both grocery retailers and non-profits like SFC, who implement SNAP incentive programs. The event provided a wealth of educational and networking opportunities for SFC's Food Access team to expand knowledge and relationships within the grocery retail space.
Double Up Food Bucks and Farm Site Visits
In September, four of our staff took a trip to Lubbock to visit the Double Up Food Bucks sites that participate in the West Texas program. During the trip, they visited five farm-direct outlets and two grocery stores implementing the Double Up program. Site visits like these provide staff with nuanced perspectives of the partner successes and challenges and help build trust between the organization and community partners.
In November another team visited several partners in Houston, including a recipient of the Farmers of Color Relief and Resiliency Fund among others. A major success of this trip was in bringing out two (one state & one local) representative staffers to the farmers’ market, introducing them to the Double Up program and fostering support for the outstanding food access work that Urban Harvest and other partners are doing in Houston.
During their Houston site visit, SFC staff meet with Ivy of Ivy Leaf Farms, an awardee of our Farmers of Color Relief and Resiliency Fund.
Texas SNAP Incentive Stakeholder Convening
This year, we hosted two statewide convenings of the Texas SNAP Incentive Coalition. Our coalition grew this year to over 150 members from across the state of Texas. Together we are working to build a robust and proven statewide Double Up Food Bucks program in which eligible SNAP families are aware of and can easily access fresh, Texas-grown produce at participating farm-direct markets and grocery retail sites in their communities. Our coalition includes farmers’ markets, food banks, farmer organizations, grocers, advocacy groups, grassroots organizations, and community leaders. We are thrilled to continue this collaborative work.
The Double Up Food Bucks stand at our Downtown SFC Farmers' Markets, where SNAP customers can go to double their benefits.
Food Justice Encuentros Return
SFC’s Equity Team organized our first ever virtual Food Justice Encuentro. This event is an Austin-based community of practice that brings together social justice leaders interested in learning from each other and enhancing our efforts to create a more inclusive and equitable food system. The December Encuentro was a panel discussion centered around how climate change disproportionately impacts BIPOC communities and strategies to build a climate resilient food system. At this bilingual event, interpretation was provided in both English and Spanish.
We Couldn’t Accomplish This Without You
Looking back over the course of the year, it’s exciting to see all the strides we’ve taken as individuals, an organization, and a community toward a just, equitable, and regenerative food system where people and the environment thrive. We want to express our deepest gratitude for your support in this journey. Whether you’re one of our class participants, donors, staff members, partner organizations, board members, farmers’ market customers or vendors, or connected to SFC in other ways, we couldn’t do the work we do without your support and partnership. Thank you for being part of this community and helping us realize our vision.