Group wants to buy Johnson Floral, create sustainable co-op with locally grown foodPublished 10:35am Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Larry Aden isn’t from Austin and has never lived here, but he has a vision for the town.
Aden, a farmer and sustainability advocate from Nemaha, Iowa, co-owns Eden Sustainable Technologies, which is hoping to buy Johnson Floral and turn it into an environmentally-friendly grocer with all of its produce grown on site. With the help of four people from the Austin area and the Twin Cities — who Aden said prefer to remain silent partners until after the purchase — Aden wants to create a farming co-op, renting space to local growers who will then sell their fruit, vegetables, fish and other products in the front, grocery area of the perspective facility year-round. The group hasn’t reached an agreement yet to buy the property, but they hope to do so soon and start producing before this winter.
“We’re very much on a march to turn it into a local foods producing hydroponics operation,” Aden said. “Everything goes in, the only thing that comes out is edible foods.”
Johnson Floral, which has been in Austin for nearly half a century, has been for sale for just more than 30 days. Its owner, Brad Johnson, said his 91-year-old father, John R. Johnson, ran the company, but wants to retire.
But the family doesn’t want the greenhouse to sit empty, and that’s where Eden comes in.
Aden raises freshwater fish — in particular peacock bass, red claw crayfish, yellow perch and buffalo fish — and plans to raise them at the co-op. He said they also have about six people interested in growing fruit, vegetables and other produce there, but he hopes to attract even more from the two Austin farmers’ markets. They also could grow flowers.
“The idea is to provide a supermarket type of environment where people can buy anything they need for their family table 365 days per year,” Aden said.
The group has received a lot of positive feedback, Aden said, but he still needs more support from groups like the farmers’ markets.
“We need local people to come in and produce,” he said, adding that there’s a lot of room at the 139,000-square-foot facility, which they hope to expand. “We’re firm believers in sweat equity. We don’t require a lot of money, but we want people to be dedicated.”
Aden also wants the facility to be green, using manure from the fish to heat the operation, and heat discharge from the cooling system to heat other areas.
“It’s a cyclical thing,” he said. “Nothing wasted, nothing discharged.”
If it’s successful, Aden hopes to launch more co-ops throughout the Midwest, and possibly the country. He said he helped launch farming cooperatives in Central and South America in the 1990s.
While Aden didn’t want to comment on the purchase price, the property is listed at $895,000 with Blecker Realty.
Brad Johnson said the group’s plan could work well for Austin, and sees the idea catching on.
“I really think growing vegetables in a greenhouse is the future,” he said.