A City With Community-Minded Spirit"Anytime I want to get away, I just go out and sit on the back screen porch, pet the dog and listen to the chickens."
Susan Gayle Bollinger's life in Austin revolves around food and community.
Bollinger was raised in the Midwest, daughter of a mother who made her own pie crusts and canned her own beans and tomatoes. "When I was a little kid, the treat we got on holidays or birthdays was that we got to pick the menu. For us, food was celebratory."
Love of food is not the only thing her mother passed down. "My mother was always doing things for other people. She taught me that being involved with people is an important part of living."
Bollinger moved to Austin with her "future ex-husband." She had a good job in the high-tech industry when both her parents became terminally ill. They also moved to Austin, where Bollinger and one of her brothers cared for them. When they died, Bollinger keenly felt the uncertainty of life.
With a nice nest egg, almost no debt, and a job that was increasingly unsatisfying, Bollinger decided to take a sabbatical from corporate life. "You can't wait until you retire to do everything that's fun," she says, so she quit her job and spent a month in France. Once back home, she started pursuing her passions: She trained at SafePlace, to help victims of domestic violence; took up pottery; and turned her attention to her lifelong love of cooking. She expanded the herb garden outside her home and started keeping chickens, creating a little bit of rural life in the heart of the city. "Anytime I want to get away, I just go out and sit on the back screen porch, pet the dog and listen to the chickens," she says.
Bollinger's home is the gathering place for her circle of friends. "I love having people over. I love feeding people." She routinely feeds 25 or 30 people each Thanksgiving and makes preparing the meal part of the fun. "I've handed a whole table full of people chopping mats and knives. They're so excited and happy. They glow."
The food Bollinger puts on her table is organic and often locally grown, something that's not hard to find in Austin. She loves the city's wealth of farmers markets, especially the Austin Farmers' Market, which was founded by the Sustainable Food Center. "One of the excellent things about it is, they've figured out how to let people use food stamps there."
This sort of community-minded spirit is one of Bollinger's favorite things about Austin. "There's a run and walk for everything," she says. "My father died of ALS. It's not a well-known disease, but by golly, there's even a run for that."
Nobody would ever go hungry in Austin if Bollinger had her way, so she also participates in the Empty Bowl fundraiser, for which local potters donate handmade bowls, local chefs donate soup and bread, and attendees pay $15 for a bowl and a meal, with proceeds benefiting the local food bank.
"Food Love Austin" is the name of Bollinger's radio show (she hosts under the name Susan Gayle) on KOOP-FM community radio, which pretty much says it all.
Check out Susan's Austin.