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Ronda Rutledge, Sustainable Food Center

Episode 1, April 24, 2018

In our first episode, hosts Kyle Frazier and Whitney Torres interview Ronda Rutledge, Executive Director of the Sustainable Food Center (SFC). Ronda explains her personal connection to SFC’s mission, the community-based programs they offer to improve food security and sustainability in Central Texas, and how they achieved a four-star rating through the Austin Energy Green Building program with solar panels, rainwater catchment, and xeriscaping. Finally, she shared information about how to support SFC at their upcoming annual Farm to Plate fundraiser, which is happening on May 9th (buy tickets here).

What is the role of sustainable food in nourishing communities and building a healthy environment? On this episode we explore the similarities between growing food and generating solar power. One turns sunshine into nutrition, and the other converts sunlight into electricity. Most importantly, both contribute to a healthy environment.

Ronda Rutledge on Texas Energy Lab

The Importance of “Real Food”

Appropriately, the first-ever Texas Energy Lab aired just in time for Earth Day. The conversation started with Ronda describing her family's Native American heritage and her personal experience as a mother, and how that brought her to Sustainable Food Center (SFC). Five generations ago, her Cherokee Nation ancestors were relocated from the Carolinas to Oklahoma. They later moved to Texas. Her family learned how to grow food in new and different environments. When she was pregnant with her first of two daughters, Ronda became even more conscious about “eating real food and not food-like substances.” With the perspective of multiple generations, Ronda appreciates the symbiosis of the air, land, and water that grow our food.

“I was so drawn to the mission [of SFC], which is to cultivate a healthy community by strengthening the local food system and improving access to nutritious and affordable food. I just loved the fact that they were tying hunger relief to sustainable agriculture, two things that I’m really passionate about.”

Learning How to Grow, Share, and Prepare

Kyle, Whitney, and Ronda noted how agriculture has come full circle, from the Victory Gardens of WWII to an agribusiness boom, to a modern return to backyard gardening, beekeeping, and chicken-raising. These days, we are reminded that food grown at home is, as Ronda notes, “the most accessible, affordable, cleanest, nutritional food that you can feed yourselves and your family.”

Central Texans are lucky to have a year-round growing season, which means you can grow something every single month of the year, if you know how. The challenge for many people, as they experiment with growing their own vegetables, is that it can be difficult to know where to start. That’s where SFC comes in.

Their programs are organized into progressive categories:

  • Grow: teaching people to start and sustain Grow Local gardens at home, school, or in the community
  • Share: connecting growers to consumers, primarily through two weekly farmer’s markets and the Double Dollars program that stretches the budget of low-income families
  • Prepare: how to cook delicious, nutritious meals on a budget through Happy Kitchen cooking classes

Sustainability Beyond Food: Solar Power, Water, and More

The solar panels on the roof of their permanent home in east Austin, donated by SunPower and installed by Freedom Solar, helped SFC achieve a four-star rating in the Austin Energy Green Building Program. Other sustainability features beyond green energy include rainwater catchment, xeriscaping with native plants, and edible gardens on every available surface including the roof and the parking lot. The solar energy system covers one-quarter of their roof and offsets about 25 percent of their electric bill. Those savings go directly back into programming to help more people in our community. View photos here, and to see the facility in person just sign up for one of their family-friendly, monthly tours.

What You Can Do to Help

As we all know, this is a time of rapid change in the Lone Star State. Farmers are losing 7 acres of farmland per day in Central Texas, and low-income people are moving further away from the center of Austin. SFC will soon be embarking on a visioning exercise to map out the ways that they can serve our community a decade or more in the future as this region continues to grow and evolve. We will be here to support them for the long haul.

You can help SFC build a healthier community for the long-term by serving as a volunteer, joining a cooking class, or purchasing a ticket to their annual Farm to Plate fundraiser on May 9 at Barr Mansion. You don’t want to miss the Sip & Stroll, with locally sourced bites prepared by 30 acclaimed Austin chefs, an open bar, and a silent auction.

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