Two new local food ventures will be taking root in the North Main neighborhood, augmenting the city’s culinary diversity and bringing Austin’s urban farming trend to Bastrop.
Last week, the Bastrop City Council approved zoning variances along North Main Street that will allow for a small commercial kitchen and an urban farm to operate out of two separate residential lots. Steve and Kerry Fossler plan to create a small, neighborhood-friendly lunchtime kitchen called the Bastrop Whistle Stop beside their home. And just across the street, David Barrow, an Austin restaurateur and urban farmer, purchased property this fall to start a vegetable growing operation in the center of the North Main neighborhood.
Both of these ventures required the council’s approval of a zoning change, from Place Type 3, or P3, which allows for residential single-family homes only, to Place Type 4, or P4, which allows for light commercial businesses but requires them to be in structures resembling a house.
Residents in the area encouraged the upzoning, saying that the two projects would give the neighborhood a focal point for community building.
"The people who live in North Main have often felt like step-children," said Alice Traugott, who lives on the same block as both projects. "A lot of people that I know don’t have cars. A lot of the people who walk down Main Street are women and children from the (nearby battered women’s) shelter, and they have to go all the way to Tracy’s (grocery store) or even walk to HEB to get a meal."
Ardas Khalsa, who lives on the western end of the neighborhood, said that one benefit of living in a small town like Bastrop is the opportunity to experiment with these kinds of community-oriented ventures.
"My key interest is connection, connection with our community," Khalsa said. "I value the small-town opportunities of Bastrop and to support local interests and local innovation."
The Bastrop City Council passed both zoning changes unanimously.
Bastrop Whistle Stop
As planned, the Bastrop Whistle Stop will be a small kitchen built on Steve and Kerry Fossler’s side yard at 1903 Main St. that will serve lunch 1 hour every weekday, beginning when a whistle sounds at noon.
The lunch stop will "feature a constant rotation of local neighbors as chefs," said Kerry.
"In my time here I’ve met many hidden chefs among us who would appreciate a stage to shine," she said. "These are mommas and dads and neighbors who would never ever open a restaurant due to cost, but they might occasionally like a wider audience than their families. Our community is not able to enjoy the hidden talents because these stars have no place to shine, and this could be their stage."
The kitchen could also serve as a test kitchen for culinary students at the Art Institute of Austin, which announced in August that it was shuttering its Round Rock campus in 2020 and relocating it to Bastrop.
Kerry said the kitchen would achieve three goals in the community: it would give the city another food option, it would increase food service to the North Main neighborhood, and it would promote community building. The site would feature picnic tables, bicycle parking and an L-shaped driveway connecting Main Street and Hawthorne Street.
"We believe we have a safer, stronger more resilient community when we get to know each other and look out for each other, and we’re happier when we eat together," Kerry said.
Kerry’s zoning change request form submitted to the city said they would likely begin applying for building permits next year.
Barrow has been a part of the Austin urban farming movement for the past 10 years having worked at and managed an urban farm in East Austin. His current dream, he said, is to produce vegetables at the 2.5 acres at 1910 Main St., which he purchased in October.
"We are in a food desert in East Austin, so I ensure that we are very close to everyone that needs food. … I hope to translate that (model) into our community here in Bastrop," Barrow said, adding the possibility to offer food discounts to area neighbors.
The only building that would be added to the property would be an on-ground greenhouse that would not require any paving. Once the farm is up and running, Barrow said he plans to create an educational component to the farm and inviting Bastrop students to learn about farming. He said his East Austin urban farm recorded 419 visits from different area schools.
"I think that farms and food bring people together. I think it’s a great way to get outside, educate people and get your hands dirty," he said. "There’s something about grabbing something and seeing it grow that can inspire young people to learn."
The previous owner of the property, Charles Wilkins, wrote in the zoning change request submitted to the city that the property has a long history as a flower farm.
"All I want to do is continue that," Barrow said.
He said he would also like to open an on-site weekly farm stand in the future, although that isn’t an initial component of the business.
In a letter to the city, Bastrop florist Brenda Abbott, owner of Brenda Abbott Floral and Event Design in the North Main neighborhood, said the kinds of businesses Barrow and the Fosslers are proposing are apt for the neighborhood.
"I believe North Main deserves to have the opportunity to grow and become a vibrant and lively neighborhood with small businesses such as eateries, farmers’ markets, corner groceries like Tracy’s (Drive-In Grocery), and of course, florist shops," Abbott wrote.