By Kim Hilsenbeck
Farming and ranching are some of the most challenging professions around.
And according to Talia Bryce, founder of Farmgrass Fest, they may also be some of the most hazardous.
“Injuries are relatively common; it’s one of most dangerous jobs in the world,” she said recently.
Bryce said many small independent farmers who run their own business generally don’t have health insurance.
“Even if they do, that doesn’t pay for lost income for when they’re out of work,” she said. “They have no funds for a rainy day.”
She knows several local Central Texas farmers and said she’s heard of several instances of injury where the farmer or ranch owner had no place to turn.
Take for example, Skip, who owns Green Gate Farms and another location. He was in a car accident while delivering his produce. That incident put him out of work for several months.
How does Bryce help?
She created Farmgrass Fest, a grassroots event that raises money for farmers who need medical care because of job-related injuries and accidents.
“Our mission is to promote the mental and physical well-being of local, independent farmers,” she said.
Much of the money raised from the event goes toward the medical fund Bryce established. Last year Farmgrass Fest raised $5,400 for the emergency medical fund.
A portion of the event’s proceeds also benefits the Growers Alliance of Central Texas (Grow ACT), which is another grassroots organization of farmers helping each other.
“It’s about local farmers who wanted to help people out, whether it was to buy in bulk or share best practices,” she said.
The group learned that restaurants were claiming to serve locally sourced ingredients. Grow ACT’s survey of area eateries found that many were not buying from local farmers and producers as they claimed. An Austin newspaper printed the list of restaurants claiming to buy local produce.
A little history
About eight years ago, Bryce — a New York City native — formed The Lost Pines, a blue grass-ish band based in Austin. The band plays mostly original bluegrass tunes, a little country, and a few covers thrown in now and again.
Her husband, Tim Bryce, grew up on a ranch in Manchaca in Hays County.
They met when she moved to Austin for her music career. She is a guitar player, singer and songwriter. He’s now an acupuncturist with an office in Dripping Springs.
She said her husband knows all about the hardships of working on a ranch, which is why he gets involved and helps out with Farmgrass Fest. He is vice president of the 501(c)(3) organization Bryce formed.
She received her official nonprofit status earlier this year and said it’s made a huge difference in securing sponsorships and getting donations. Sponsors contributed close to $30,000 for the 2015 event. Wheatsville Co-op, the title sponsor, gave $5,000.
The 2014 event, held on a farm in Niederwald, drew about 300 people in that inaugural year.
Bryce said this year they’ve already sold almost 300 tickets; children are free.
“We expect to sell more tickets this week,” she said.
Why a festival?
“Festivals are the most fun venues to play,” she said. As a musician, she’s played bars and other venues, but now that she has a family, including a three-year-old, she prefers family-friendly options.
Plus, Bryce said some festivals, particularly those in Austin, grow so much they don’t have as much room for local bands anymore.
She thought, “Why don’t we just start our own festival?”
That’s exactly what she did.
Bryce said she would love to see the event expand, but said it’s important to her to keep it at a manageable size.
“We’re deliberately trying to keep it smaller,” she said.
“People in Austin getting weary of Austin festivals — they’re too big, too corporate, there are too many lines,” Bryce said. “People are hungry for a festival like this.”
Farmgrass Fest is in a small area, there’s one band at a time, it’s easy to park and the event is not expensive to attend. Bryce said all the bands at this year’s event are local.
“You get a breath of fresh air and get to spend a day on a farm,” Bryce said.
Visit www.farmgrassfest.com for more information.