Growing plants at Watson, Inc. for the West Haven (CT) Emergency Assistance Taskforce
While hardly a new phenomenon, community gardens currently are thriving across the US – and in several instances, they are doing what supermarkets are failing to do: Provide fresh food choices to people in ‘food deserts’ – areas where fresh produce is hard to come by.
I remember years ago – more than four decades ago, in fact — some ambitious soul was growing sweet corn (maize) on a patch of barely-soil in between two pairs of subway tracks in Harlem, New York City. The tracks at that point are elevated, probably 40 feet (12 m) above Broadway. Despite the poor soil quality, the corn was thriving.
Similarly ambitious entities – some simply private citizens, others organized in one or another fashion – are providing food servings and sometimes space for community members to grow food for themselves and their families across the country.
Feeding Food Banks
In the town of Orange CT, Watson, Inc., which is primarily in the business of producing nutritional enrichment and similar products for food processors, four years ago opened what it calls its fellowship garden, where food is grown for food banks.
The company provides 4,800 plants each year, and those not used are donated to the food bank for use in its gardens.
More recently, having space to spare, the company created a garden where children with autism spectrum issues can grow pumpkins, melons and other items.
Christina Cole, 47, a graphic designer at Watson told The Guardian: “The plot for Milestones Behavioural Services gives kids with autism and developmental disabilities the chance to not only have fun and be outside, but also learn life skills and take home what they grow and learn to cook with their families.”
This year, they’re adding a corn maze to that garden, she noted.
Hunger, Often Hidden, Is Too Common
The Connecticut Food Bank told The Guardian that one in eight citizens struggle with hunger.
In Louisville, KY, a non-profit restaurant called The Table is run by volunteers who use food grown in urban gardens in the Portland neighborhood. Founded by Pastor Larry Stoess and his wife, Kathie, along with John Howard, a volunteer, the restaurant was featured in AARP The Magazine’s April/May edition.
In 2016, the State Fair of Texas introduced Big Tex Urban Farms, a revolutionary, mobile agriculture system in the heart of Fair Park.
As a testing ground for the project, the Fair used an 80-by-80-foot area normally used to house the Gateway Pavilion during the State Fair season. Employees from various departments worked with a Fair Park TX-area company to develop 100 raised planting beds created out of products normally used for packaging and shipping.
Promoting Healthy Lifestyles
By the end of 2016, the project proved itself to be a successful experiment by investing financial and human capital into immediate Fair Park neighborhoods and companies. It connects like-minded agriculture entities and provides fresh, organic produce to organizations focused on hunger and healthy lifestyle programs.
This year, the project expects to grow more than 5,900 pounds of fresh produce, 77,882 total servings, 11,230 heads of lettuce, and, oddly, 303 eggs.
Considering the dynamics of Fair Park’s numerous events and National Historic Landmark designation, developing a mobile solution for the farm was imperative to the program’s success. Through a partnership with General Packaging Corporation, the urban farm’s 40-by-48-inch beds were designed and manufactured by a Fair Park-area company. Each bed, created with a shipping-pallet base, is easily constructed by one person, optimized for storage, and moved by forklift.
Throughout the growing season, all produce (more than 6,000 fruits and vegetables) was donated to Fair Park-area organizations including the Baylor Scott & White Health and Wellness Institute in the Mill City neighborhood, Cornerstone Baptist Church, and Austin Street Shelter.
As of 2017, Big Tex Urban Farms has grown to 520 boxes, a 15×30-foot-deep (4.5 x 9m) water culture bed capable of producing more than 20,000 greens a year, and various community locations throughout South Dallas.
One recipient, Glenda Cunningham, of the Baylor Scott and White health and wellness center, praised the project’s work. “The community looks forward to the Big Tex urban farm delivery each week. The food is fresh, free and beautiful,” she told The Guardian.