From the Ground Up!

From the Ground Up! 

For this pilot project in 2016, we began partnering with local communities to gather and mobilize the food stories of historically oppressed, resilient populations in Central Texas. Gathering these stories – and harnessing resources – is critical as the region undergoes social, economic, and environmental change. In addition to gathering concealed stories, this pilot project beings to

  • highlight community-based food practices that already exist
  • identify local needs and desires among community members
  • recognize community-based food resources to support through policy, economic actions, and grassroots organizing

From the Ground Up! focuses primarily on the stories of historically marginalized communities, such as African-American/Black, Brown/Latino/a, and LGBTQAI people of color, in Central Texas and white-identified active allies.

Listen to / read interviews from Elgin, Texas below | Get in touch to partner


From the Ground Up! Elgin  

Mary Penson

“. . . [A] lot of farmland is becoming housing and subdivisions, and it’s taking away all of our farming.”


As a sixth generation African-American resident of Elgin, Mary Alice Penson has witnessed and experienced the changing environment of the Austin suburb. Penson became a representative on the Elgin city council, after she felt her voice and the voices of her community were being silenced. With respect to food, Penson grew up eating her grandmother’s cooking. Throughout the holidays, she and her family would eat greens, ham, turkeys, similar to the other interviewees. She generally purchases her groceries from H-E-B due to its sales and deals that make the products affordable. The change in Elgin has been very apparent, according to Penson. From people walking everywhere in the past, to most people driving now, and the conversion of farmland into housing developments, Elgin has become a more metropolitan community. With that urbanization, she states that she now cooks at home more often than she had prior.

Byron Mitchell 

“That’s one of the major downsides -when you’re talking about a community such as Elgin, that’s starting to grow-because you start to lose some of that farm land that families have had for years…that’s sort of a lost art.”


Living in Elgin, Texas for the majority of his life, Byron Mitchell has witnessed the evolution of food sources in the Austin, Texas suburb over the past 50 years.  A longtime Black resident, Mitchell was raised by his grandmother, who loved to cook homemade meals. His great-grandfather farmed the fresh fruits and vegetables that his grandmother would then prepare in a meal. Throughout the years, in Mitchell’s perspective, Elgin has primarily changed through a continual decrease in local produce farming. The culture shift in society, as Mitchell points out is the need “for everything to be fast.” In which he also believes that “we, [society], tend to cheat ourselves out when it comes to food.” Although Mitchell does appreciate the time and patience it takes for natural produce to grow, he admits to being guilty of adapting to the current trend of fast and large-scale agriculture, via grocery shopping at H-E-B or Wal-Mart. When relating Mitchell’s food experience to his culture and race, African-American, he points out the social potential of food. Specifically he states that food served as a means to bond in the black community, as many people had nothing else to give, but food.

Wendell Cathey 

I really don’t know of the local growers, like, who they are. But if I had the opportunity to meet them, that would be nice.”


Born in Austin, Texas, but a longtime African-American resident of Elgin, Texas, Wendell Cathey has witnessed first hand the doubling of Elgin. Cathey was raised in a home that appreciated home cooked meal, as red beans and cornbread was his favorite meal his grandmother cooked. Cathey’s grandmother owned and maintained a small garden filled with vegetables and fruits, which she often incorporated into the meals Cathey ate. Although Cathey has an appreciation for locally grown foods, he does not currently garden nor connect with the local growers or farmers.  During his lifetime, Cathey has witnessed Elgin double in population size. This change has led to a greater variety in  the food landscape, as there are now more people in Elgin to offer more various types of food and cuisine.

Sue Beckwith

“It’s not just the political will, but also the economic will. And that’s what i think is important to put [more interest in farming and local food] into practice.”

[Recording coming soon | Transcript]

Sue Beckwith has only lived in Elgin for three years but has already witnessed the rapidly changing atmosphere of the suburb. Born in Plainfield, New Jersey, Beckwith lived with her father and grandmother up until the age of 7.  Growing up, she mainly ate foods prepared at home by either her paternal grandmother, or her maternal Ukrainian grandmother.  As a means of habit, personal preference, and economic reasons, Beckwith and her partner still prefer to eat home cooked meals rather than indulge in outside options.  Beckwith works closely with the farmers in communities like Elgin, and she herself had farmed in Paige, Texas, raising poultry and other meat birds. Specifically, Beckwith helps farmers find new and efficient ways to process their products via freezing, canning, drying so they could have a relatively stable income throughout the year. Concerning the changing landscape of Elgin, Beckwith noted that the city is segregated from the people who actually live and work in Elgin to the people who only live in Elgin and commute to Austin. She also expressed the rise in attention given to agricultural development in Elgin regarding small farmers.