Innovative Austin company plants seeds of change with veggie gardens

Larry Franklin and Fredrick Douglas want to help more people in Austin eat healthily. They also hope that their six-month-old company, Black Lives Veggies, will add diversity to the local food system by teaching people of color about farming and entrepreneurship, as well as materials for setting up their own vegetable garden.

“We want everyone to be healthy, but we also want opportunities for the disenfranchised,” Franklin says. “It’s about plants, but also about entrepreneurship and social justice. As you listen to the news, you will hear politicians talk about the healthcare divide, the wealth gap, and the literacy gap. Fundamental to this is the need for people of color to take responsibility for their health and money. ”

The company’s services include supplying a variety of seasonal vegetables, advising people on how to grow a garden to live in, and even planting plants for customers.

Black Lives Veggies works out of an East Austin greenhouse where Franklin and Douglas grow all of their plants from seeds in soil that they mix themselves. The two currently manage all of the operations with the help of friends and the volunteer days they host on Saturdays.

“We’re not professional gardeners, we learn as we go,” says Douglas. “Some vegetables take a while to grow, depending on the season and other factors.”

They plan to create a newsletter to let people know about the types of plants available and to announce events like volunteer days, as well as a podcast to talk to people about their gardening experiences.

“We want people to come out and have a chat – that’s a big part of why we do what we do,” says Franklin. Ultimately, the couple says they want to help people plant gardens to grow, eat and sell food.

“We want to encourage people to live better and eat better,” says Franklin. “All you need is land or a container. The thing is, it doesn’t take much space at all to grow enough food to support a small family. “

For example, four tomato plants will feed a family of four for the entire season. Those with small yards or no yards can grow vegetables in a container garden (download a free guide to container gardening from the AgriLife Extension Service.) Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, green onions, beans, lettuce, pumpkin, radishes, and parsley are just some of the vegetables suitable for container gardens.

BLV offers start-up kits with an apartment of 20 small seedlings, as well as information on when to plant, how to care for the plants, and when and how to harvest. Ultimately, entrepreneurs want their model replicated elsewhere, envisioning hubs in communities across the country producing vegetables that growers can share with each other and with their neighbors. This would help reduce reliance on mass market supermarkets and allow consumers to know the source of their model foods.

Currently, the focus is on Austin, which, according to Douglas, is one of the most economically separated cities in the country. “It is necessary to be fulfilled,” he says.

BLV also sells vegetables at Dia’s Market on Justin Lane and on weekends at Wheatsville Food Co-op. Current offerings include spinach, broccoli, and lettuce.

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