What would be at the top of your priority list if you were searching for employment? Of course, a good salary, fair working hours, and benefits are all likely vital factors. But how about the opportunity to feed yourself and your family with nutritious fruits and vegetables every week at no cost? This unique and fantastic perk is offered to Tito’s Handmade Vodka employees with the debut of Fourteen Acres Farm.
Fourteen Acres Farm
In Austin, TX, Tito’s Handmade Vodka specializes in making corn-based, certified gluten-free vodka. But the distillery sits in a food desert, meaning the surrounding communities lack access to fresh and nutritious produce. With so many of its employees living in those areas, Tito’s decided to be a part of the solution and, last August, launched Fourteen Acres Farm right next door to the distillery.
A team of seven farmers tends to the land, growing more than 25 types of fruits and vegetables, including mixed greens, a variety of lettuce, peppers, cabbage, broccoli, beans, tomatoes, eggplant, squash, and potatoes. Initially, employees were offered pre-packed bags of produce. But to cut down on food waste, a farm-to-market distribution has been introduced so workers can select what they’d like to eat each week and connect and interact with their farmers. They also receive meal ideas and recipe cards to inspire delicious culinary creations.
“Education is so important, and we may be growing produce that some of our employees have never tried before,” explains Kathleen Kuper, Farm Director of Fourteen Acres Farm. “We also feel it’s important to provide educational opportunities to support our employees who want to start home gardens and share more with their families!”
Employees like Javier Sosa, who has been Head of Quality at Tito’s Handmade Vodka for six years. He says his family looks forward to sharing meals made with the farm-fresh produce he brings home weekly.
“I really enjoy the kale and potatoes,” he says. “One of my favorite dishes to make is Zuppa Toscana soup. It’s warm, hearty, and so easy to make!”
A Bright Light
Sosa is not alone in his appreciation for the farm. Amy Lukken is the Joyologist at Tito’s Handmade Vodka; her role is to spread love and happiness and bring out what’s right and good with people (I don’t know what I like better, her job description or the free groceries!). She says Fourteen Acres Farm has been a bright light for many in the Tito’s family.
“The reaction to the farm has been positive and beyond what we imagined it to be,” she says. “We had more than twice the amount of people sign up for the first week than we expected. Because of this excitement, the farm continues to grow to keep up with the demand!”
How The Gardens Grow
With 14 acres of land, the farm grows its food crops in 74 raised beds and 16 high tunnels. The farm staff starts the seeds in the greenhouse; once they sprout, the seedlings are moved out into the hoop houses, which have sides that can be raised or lowered depending on the wind conditions. The current barn was the original greenhouse, made of old sea containers that the staff diligently cleaned and put together. The farm has also repurposed and recycled many excess materials from the distillery to make the raised beds, support walkways, and help prevent erosion in the gardens. It’s one of the many ways Fourteen Acres Farm strives for sustainability. However, Kuper says the most crucial aspect of all is building soil.
“We utilize vermiculture and compost at Fourteen Acres Farm,” says Kuper. “We keep our farm clean, and our soil healthy, as healthy soil helps to manage pests and diseases.”
Farm waste is composted and returned to the soil as nutrients for the next crop, and compost teas are offered to the plants regularly. Several farm dogs (affectionately called “co-woofers”) help with critter control, keeping rabbits and rodents away from the produce in the fields. But most of all, the co-woofers make excellent company for the farmers.
Of course, no growing venture is without problems, and Fourteen Acres Farm has faced its fair share of challenges in the fields, such as hurricane-force winds last spring.
“Three of the biggest challenges we’ve had growing so far are wind, soil, and water,” Kuper explains. “To address these challenges, we’ve utilized high tunnels to protect our crops from the wind, developed a rainwater collection system to support our water needs, and have spent the past few years improving our soil conditions with cover crops and organic materials.”
A farmer’s work is never done, and the soil will always need love, attention, and nourishment. That’s why Fourteen Acres will continue with its vermiculture and compost brews. The staff is learning to make bio-complete compost and liquid amendments with worm castings. They’re also starting an in-house soil lab, something Kuper says is a no-brainer for any farm hoping to produce an abundance of nutritious food.
“Soil is the most important part of growing! To keep everything in balance, it’s important to regularly test your soil and ensure it’s healthy,” she says. “Through the soil lab, we’ll be able to test and document farm metrics with water, soil, and sunlight, improving our ability to grow.”
Other Cool Projects
From building the farm and gardens to launching the employee farm-to-market program, it has been an arduous yet fulfilling process for Tito’s Handmade Vodka. After seeing the success in its own backyard, Fourteen Acres Farm has inspired Tito’s to launch Block to Block, an initiative meant to give back to communities across the country and increase their access to nutritious food.
Over the past few years, Block to Block has teamed up with many nonprofit organizations and supported 90 different growing spaces. For example, in Oklahoma City, OK, this year, the program worked alongside OKC Beautiful and planted 20 fruit trees at a local community center. They also distributed 400 fruit trees to community members and groups to help boost the urban tree canopy and improve access to fresh fruit.
“One of my favorite Block to Block stories is our work with Shalom Farms in Richmond, VA,” says Lindsey Bates, Director of Philanthropy Operations at Tito’s Handmade Vodka. “This year, we were able to help support the expansion of their Northside Farm Site, which will give them the opportunity to increase the amount of produce they grow for their community from 44,000 pounds in 2022 to more than 60,000 in 2023!”
Sharing The Love
Back on the farm, beautiful produce continues to grow for Tito’s employees to enjoy and share with their families. Fourteen Acres Farm hopes to continue to build this unique program and share it with other companies worldwide so that workers beyond Tito’s can benefit. More sustainable gardens, lower grocery bills, and healthier people in the world? That sounds like an incredible business model. Where can we apply?