On a typical morning, Velda Brunner wakes up at around 6 a.m. and heads to her blinds in order to peak out the window.
“We have this contest to see who can get over to the farm first,” she said. “I have the advantage because I live right across the street.”
The farm is the recently completed PCC Austin Farm, 330 N. Lotus Ave., which Brunner, who has lived on Lotus Avenue for 20 years, visits many times throughout the week. Brunner spoke during a Thurs. August 20 ceremony designating the farm’s total completion, and its official naming, after more than a year of piecemeal developments. While it opened roughly three months ago, the farm had been under development since last November.
The garden is now fully equipped with a greenhouse, where produce can grow year-round. According to Windy City Harvest worker Paul Krysik, the greenhouse wasn’t there just a month ago. Krysik is a member of the original crew of workers who laid the foundation and original soil for the farm and greenhouse. He was standing in the garden, waiting for the ceremony to start, with Windy City Harvest volunteer Antonio Holmes. They were showing visitors to the farm how to use soil blockers.
Volunteers and workers like Krysik have grown to become fixtures in this once-blighted corner of Austin. Brunner calls Lucia Flores, the farm’s program manager, her “dearest friend,” adding that Flores has become “our alarm clock around here.” It’s a newfound sense of community that, once missing, the Austin resident now relishes.
“I used to get up every morning going into other people’s communities doing just what I always wanted to do in my own community,” Brunner said. “This farm has really brought [residents in the area] together.”
Brunner said, since the farm began yielding organic fruits and vegetables several months ago, she’s grown close to many of her neighbors. And their conversations, she said, often center on the foods and recipes they share with each other. It’s not uncommon now, for instance, to overhear a group of area residents talking about seven layer salad recipes or tomato varieties.
“The farm has really done wonders to this neighborhood,” said Brunner.
At the August 20 ceremony, Robert J. Urso, the president and CEO of PCC Community Wellness Center said the PCC Austin Farm’s official name is the brainchild of an 8-person committee comprising local gardeners and area residents.
“It was important to the participants that we keep the connection between PCC and Austin — hence PCC Austin Farm,” he said.
The 8,000-square-foot urban farm was made possible by a collaboration between PCC, Windy City Harvest and the Humana Foundation, the latter of which gave PCC a 3-year, $350,000 grant to develop the space.
William Snyder, Humana’s market vice president, said the 3-year grant evolved from an earlier grant program administered by the health insurance company to communities around the country.
“We started with a grant that was $100,000 a year, but we wanted to find an organization we could have a long-term relationship with; so we extended the grant to three years [and enlarged it to] $350,000,” Snyder said.
He noted that the Human Foundation, the insurance company’s philanthropic arm, was struck by PCC’s idea of the future.
“We asked organizations to come in and tell us what they were trying to do and what their dreams, values and missions were. When PCC came in to tell us about what they were trying to do and what their dreams, values and mission are … we said, this is a huge goal and it was an incredible vision they had,” he said.
Snyder said Humana has a goal to help its service areas “become 20 percent healthier by 2020.” He said this goal “aligned perfectly with what PCC is doing here in the neighborhood.”
The PCC Austin Farm holds market days, where people can purchase the farm’s produce, each Tuesday, from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m., until October 27; and on select Saturdays. For more information, scroll through the images above this article.