Cultivating New Ground: How Hausbar Urban Farm Brings More Than Just Food to the Table
Dorsey Barger wasn’t bluffing when she vowed to run a sustainable urban farm in in Austin, Texas, eight years ago. As a pioneer in Austin’s local food and urban farming movements, Hausbar Urban Farm & Guesthouse embraces a mission of operating as sustainably as possible.
“We either compost or recycle every other thing that comes on to this property,” Barger says. “That includes staples, the lint that comes out of the dryer, the dirt from the vacuum cleaner; household bills are shredded and used to line our hens’ nesting boxes. We make all of our own garden fertilizer by composting our hens’ waste mixed with dried leaves.”
HausBar Farms opened in 2009 to provide vegetables and organic eggs for Eastside Café, a restaurant that Barger started in 1988 with business partner Elaine Martin. Three years later, Barger sold her interest in Eastside Café in order to concentrate full-time on HausBar, which she co-owns with her wife, Susan Hausmann.
Barger and Hausmann began selling their fresh farm goods to local chefs and a produce delivery service. Since then, some of Austin’s most lauded restaurants create dishes with HausBar vegetables, herbs and edible flowers, including Emmer & Rye, Kuneho, Uchi and Uchiko.
“Buying food shipped to us from all over the world is not sustainable,” says Barger. “We burn up more calories shipping and packaging our food than we gain by eating it. That’s the definition of being unsustainable.”
But for Barger, HausBar Farm was more than just her embracing a mission of operating sustainably, it was also an opportunity to foster and share that approach with the local community at the same time.
Soon, Hausbar Farms was organizing community events such as the East Austin Urban Farm Tour, and offering tours for schools, scout troops, senior citizen homes and any other group who’s interested.
“We decided to open our farms as a tour, to educate Austinites about what’s going on here with urban farms in East Austin. We rounded up with our friends in the food and beverage businesses to put it together.”
Every April for the past eight years, locals can be found walking or biking between four urban farms, pausing along the way to sample food and drinks sourced from the farms by some of the city’s top chefs, attend gardening and farming seminars with local farmers, and take guided tours of the crops and properties as part of the annual East Austin Urban Farm Tour.
Hausbar Farm, teamed up with three other neighborhood farms on Austin’s thriving East Side — Boggy Creek, Rain Lily and Springdale Farms – to create the event that allows visitors to get to know the farmers behind the food and learn how it’s grown, while raising money for the Farm & Ranch Freedom Alliance.
“We had similar interests and goals,” Barger says of the four farms. “We got together one day about eight years ago to celebrate with a meal and glass of wine.” That evening turned into an idea to host a similar event for the public.
In the first year, about 200 people showed up; this year 600 tickets sold out in less than two weeks. “The event has become really well attended and people love being on our farms,” Barger says.
This sort of community outreach and involvement has helped create a vibrant and thriving local, sustainable food movement to Austin — a city where healthy living is practically a motto.
On the surface, Hausbar Farms is home to hundreds of chickens, dozens of rabbits, a few ducks, three pet birds, two donkeys, two humans, and several geese, including local celebrity Gustavo, who greets guests at the farm and is quite the attraction on Instagram. Hausbar Farms, however, is more than just the sum of its parts.
Nearly a decade after they opened, HausBar continues to practice their mission of operating as sustainably as possible. No gas-powered equipment is used; all 51 garden beds were dug with pitchforks and shovels. They only throw away about a gallon of trash per week — and that’s for the farm business and their personal household combined. A 30,000-gallon rainwater capture system drip irrigates the crops, and they are in the process of installing solar panels which will provide the entire property with 90 percent of its electrical needs.
“It’s so easy and delicious to change the way we eat,” Barger emphasizes. “You just have to change the way you see food. You’ll never want to go to the grocery store again.” Barger’s mission for sustainability has led her to adopt an urban farming model all its own.
The couple also incorporated another aspect to the farm, that had long been a dream of theirs: a vacation GuestHaus. The bungalow at the front of the two-acre farm offers a peaceful eco-getaway in this unique environment; and since Barger and Hausmann live in another home on-site, they are available to offer tours and personal insight into what goes on around the place. The GuestHaus has been extremely successful: it’s booked for 27 or 28 nights every month. Small events are also held at HausBar Farms, especially around the swimming pool which makes for a delightful space.
For Barger, this multi-pronged entrepreneurial approach is a more sustainable business model. She says that just selling farm produce is a nearly impossible way to make a living in the middle of the city, on such a small piece of land.
Always the busy entrepreneur, she is currently at work on a new project, writing a book about Gustavo the Goose in collaboration with her mother, who is an artist. “She has painted these amazing portraits, and I am crafting the stories around the paintings,” Barger says. “The book is going to be written from Gustavo’s perspective.”
Even Gustavo the Goose lends a helping wing by leading the kid campers around the farm to visit the baby chicks, feed rabbits, collect eggs or garden. “It’s so great to see kids interact with plants and animals,” Barger says. “You can see their minds churning, making the connection with our activities and where their food actually comes from.”
by Shelley Seale
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