Co-op slowly begins getting off the ground

Austin Central Market’s sustainable co-op is getting off the ground … slowly.

Though the former Johnson Floral still offers flowers, plants and other florist services, the dream of converting the longtime greenhouse into an environmentally friendly, year-round grocer is still taking shape, according to Larry Aden, founder and executive director of AMASS, the Assurance Mutual Association for a Sustainable Society.

“We’re open every day, but of course we don’t have everything that we hope to have there,” Aden said.

Aden bought the longtime florist last summer to get locally produced fruits, vegetables and other products to market. Aden has never lived in Austin — he’s a farmer and sustainability advocate from Nemaha, Iowa — but he has big plans to turn Austin Central Market into a new kind of co-op for area residents.

“We’re trying to build a supermarket just based on local production, or as local production you can possibly get,” he said.

The Austin Central Market opened in September and Aden said the co-op received a few items to stock from local farmers on a consignment agreement, but the market’s spring house is currently closed. Aden said Austin Central Market will have fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables by mid-April.

Yet the market is working on other projects, as well. Aden said the market will help grow up to 50 acres of sunroot, part of a North American grower’s association to grow as much sunroot as possible. Sunroot is a non-genetically modified plant that can be converted into diabetic and celiac-friendly, gluten-free flour.

In addition, work on an indoor, vertical “aquaponics” farm, producing both edible and ornamental plants, freshwater fish and lobsters, plus renewable energies will continue throughout the year.

The market also has contracted with both the Austin Area Farmers Market and the Farmers Market Place to provide salad fixings for both places, which Aden said will help drive traffic to all three places.

“We’re hoping that this new alliance with the farmers markets groups in the area will afford us a little bit more exposure,” he said.

Aden said anyone is welcome to sell their items at Austin Central Market on a consignment agreement, and the market will soon hire someone to coordinate efforts to provide as many locally grown items as possible.

“We want to be there to help them and serve the people wherever they are,” he said. “That’s the vision that we have is to create a system that is based on local food production.”

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