Urban farmers in Austin were left out of the loan program since the loan money came from redistributed HUD funding, making them ineligible.
Alejandra Rodriguez, founder of La Flaca ATX, an urban farm in South Austin is shutting down her place. Rodriguez says the pandemic and conversations surrounding racial injustice have forced the closure, but she’s using it as a moment to pivot towards a purpose she didn’t know she needed.
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As she rakes in a compost pile, the dry and dead leaves and limbs make it tough to imagine a once thriving urban farm.
“Right now we’re in the process of ripping everything out, tilling the soil,” Rodriguez says behind a face mask, wiping sweat from her brow.
“I’m used to picking things and smelling them but everything has changed,”Rodriguez says, cutting some of the herbs left behind as she tries to save anything left, “Everything came to a screeching halt overnight.”
The shutdown began around the country in March and by April, things in Austin were halted, a way for the universe to collectively tell the world to be silent.
“There’s also a little bit of relief. You know, we were struggling for so long trying to make it work,” Rodriguez said.
Her farm, La Flaca did receive federal aid from the Pay Check Protection program, but funds ran out. Now, she using the new time on her hands to pivot her work amid the current social climate.
“The Flaca you know, currently operates as a farm that grows premium ingredients for restaurants and that is definitely not coming back we don’t see if we’re honest we don’t seem like the world is going back to what it was,” Rodriguez says.
The pandemic has served as a time to reflect on many things, including what she describes as social and racial injustices she’s witnessed in Austin farming, that can not be ignored.
“It’s been size a little sad to realize how many people they say they’re not racist, but their behavior and their actions say otherwise,” Rogdriguez says, as she sits on her knees gathering edible flowers, “It’s been really disappointing to see people that I consider my peers and even friends have no desire to confront their own biases, their own issues with honestly, white supremacy and [their lack of desire to] realize that people of color need help. We cannot continue to be pushed aside, so I really feel a calling to find my place in that space.”
Rodriguez came to the United States in 2012 from Monterrey, Mexico. She left behind a world of finance and banking in a career she says left her unfulfilled.
“I fell into farming you know, it started by being homesick. I missed different ingredients from Mexico,” Rodriguez remembers, “I started growing them myself.”
But she says her life shouldn’t be romanticized. Recently, urban farms were excluded from some city relief programs because of HUD restrictions, so it's been tough for her.
“The profits are slim, there are so many problems like racism and cultural appropriation that seriously need to be addressed in Austin,” Rodriguez says.
And you may be wondering who racism in farming coincides. She begins laughing before we can finish our question.
“Oh my God! I could talk about this for hours, but let’s just say that being a Latina woman in farming, a lot of people feel entitled to treat me in a way that my white peers are not being treated and i know this because I’ve shared some of my experiences and the reaction of all my white peers is one of two things,” Rodriguez says as she continues collecting herbs in her process of closing the farm. “One [reaction is] they go like, ‘Oh! Holy Hell! This has never happened to me. This is appalling!’ They recognize it and say, ‘I had no clue this was so bad, like no clue and it’s so sad that you have to go through this,’ and then those that honestly really hurt is people that you think are friends or peers and they tell you things like, ‘You’re overreacting or you should calm yourself.’ “
Now she’s finding peace in a moment to stop. A moment to pivot in the midst of the pandemic.
“I want to use whatever privilege I have towards advancing food justice for Black and Latinos, I want my purpose in life to be farmland restoration and economic opportunities for marginalized communities,” Rodriguez says. “So whatever is next for me, it’s going to be something around that. Maybe it’s going to be a land trust where we get land to the hands of Black and Latinos and get them again, to tell their own stories and grow their own food and not be exploited for their labor but actually have ownership.”
Hard, but needed conversations that have risen to the surface as this urban farmer prepares to move into a new season of life.
“You can see the beautiful color even though it’s dry,” Rodriguez explains, proud of the farming work she’s done, “When we got here there was no soil at all it was all like, oh spider! Hello darling!”
And just like this year, the earth is always full of surprises.
“It’s not easy, it’s not romantic, but I still think it’s worth it,” Rodriguez says.
They don't have restrictions on farmers.
La Flaca ATX has applied and is waiting to hear back, with hopes she can re-open with a new vision this fall.