Food co-op takes over greenhouse

Published 10:49 am Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Austin Central Market should start planting this week; purchase is in final stage

A farming and food market co-op is prepping Johnson Floral, hoping to start planting by the end of the week.

Larry Aden, founder and executive director of AMASS, announced Monday that he has begun converting the longtime greenhouse into Austin Central Market, an environmentally-friendly, year-round grocer with all of its produce grown on site. Aden, a farmer and sustainability advocate from Nemaha, Iowa, is in the final stages of buying Johnson Floral. Its owner, Brad Johnson, said he is giving Aden control of the facility before they finalize the purchase so he can start modifications and “hit the growing season at full steam.”

“We fully expect a sale to result from this transaction,” Johnson said. “I’m really excited.”

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AMASS, which stands for Assurance Mutual Association for a Sustainable Society, is moving its headquarters to the site, at 400 31st St. SW. They plan to keep the existing staff, and initiate a phased expansion into an open-membership club marketplace. The first step is the remodel, and launch of Austin Central Market.

Austin Central Market will provide area producers and craftsmen consignment retail space in a European-style marketplace to make a variety of fresh, local fruits, vegetables and other foods, nursery and hatchery stock, tools, crafts, ornamentals and related supplies.

The second step will be to implement Aden’s plan for zero-emissions, zero-discharge, indoor, vertical ‘aquaponics’ farm, producing both edible and ornamental plants, freshwater fish and lobsters, plus renewable energies. Aden hopes to have the second phase complete in about a month, and a grand opening in about a month and a half.

“It has been a great pleasure working with the Johnsons during the lengthy negotiating process,” Aden said. “They are wonderful people who care deeply about their roots in Austin. We are pleased to have this opportunity to build upon their legacy of service to this area.”

Johnson Floral, which opened in 1967, has been for sale since mid-June. The Austin property is listed at $895,000 through Blecker Realty. The commercial property is 5.62 acres, and the roughly 47-year-old building is 139,000 square feet, according to Blecker.

Aden is looking for more farmers to participate in the co-op. He said he has two signed on, and about six who have said they will participate. He’s hoping more from both farmers markets join.

Aden said as community-service organizations, AMASS and Austin Central Market need all of the community support they can get. He said there are volunteer opportunities, and they will also seek interns.

The business will be open 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Call 507-433-2316 or 712-660-8255 to arrange donations, deliveries, or service after hours. Aden said they will also upgrade their website and will be on Twitter and Facebook soon.