A Local Austin Community Business Provides Fresh Produce And Jobs For Youth

Austin Harvest empowers and employs young people from the Austin community. Those young people run a produce market at 423 N. Laramie. PHOTO PROVIDED BY JULIE THORSON
Austin Harvest empowers and employs young people from the Austin community. Those young people run a produce market at 423 N. Laramie. PHOTO PROVIDED BY JULIE THORSON

A Local Austin Community Business Provides Fresh Produce And Jobs For Youth

By Tia Carol Jones

In the early days of COVID-19, Rodney Williams hosted peace circles for young people who live in the Austin community. Schools were closed because of the pandemic and Williams wanted to check-in on the young residents in the neighborhood.

During a conversation, one of the young people made a statement that resonated with Williams. She said, “maybe things were supposed to happen like this, so we could finally rebuild our community the way it should’ve been built in the first place.”


The statement led to a bus tour, with former NFL Football Player Sam Acho and other athletes from Athletes for Justice, around Austin. On the bus tour, Williams counted 19-20 liquor stores and three grocery stores. Since then, one of the grocery stores has closed, leaving the community with only two grocery stories. One of the young people came up with the idea to start a pop-up produce market and Austin Harvest was born.


In just a few weeks, Austin Harvest had a space to open the pop-up produce market, located at 423 N. Laramie. The produce comes from a partnership with Jewel-Osco, getting the produce at cost and delivered three times a week.


The student-run market started out with 10 students and has expanded to 15 students running the market. The intention was to open for 12 weeks. Then, the community wanted them to stay open for another 12 weeks. The Austin Market program is year-round but the market is open in the summer months.


Sam Acho and The Score helped Austin Harvest raise $60,000 so it could build a permanent space and the market could be open year-round. That money will also enable the program to hire more students.


Williams grew up in the Austin community. He didn’t have the option of participating in a program that would provide employment and fresh produce to the community. He takes what Austin Harvest does personally.


Williams believes a program like Austin Harvest brings hope back to the community. He left the community because he didn’t see potential to raise a family in the community. For him to see young people learn how to be entrepreneurs and how to manifest their hopes and dreams, it is a wonderful thing.


“Our kids are actually pioneering something they can see, it’s tangible. It’s not going away anytime soon. We’re building a brick and mortar that they can look at for years to come,” he said.


Siblings of students who were part of the initial Austin Harvest group have come on board to participate in the program. The young people in the community no longer have to travel outside the Austin community to look for opportunities, because it exists in the community for them to take advantage of.


Customers have come from outside the community to support and encourage the students who participate in Austin Harvest. Williams has seen the morale of the students who participate in the program increase. The students in the program are faithful and committed. They’ve bought into the program. Williams believes the model should be duplicated.


“These kids are dreamers. This is their dream. They work at a place they dreamed up. We simply provided a place and walk them through it to manifest it,” he said. “No adult can take credit. We have just been a support for them as they dream it.”


For more information, visit @austinharvestfreshmarket on Facebook.

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