Plant It Forward Farm in Montrose
My hubby and I were intending to go to the Houston Zoo yesterday. Even though we had arrived in Hermann Park only 30 minutes after the zoo had opened for the day, we were literally unable to find a parking spot.
Note to self…try going on a weekday instead of a Saturday when it is less crowded.
While in the nearby Montrose area we made a wonderful discovery.
A good sized garden with a farm stand of locally grown produce was spotted. Stopping to check it out we learned about the Plant It Forward Farms in Houston and their mission.
At first I thought it might be a community garden. I had read about such gardens in other towns and cities. People from neighborhoods all pitch in together and share the labors as well as the fruits of their endeavors. They only harvest what they need for personal use from the community gardens. Apparently it works beautifully and develops comradery between the neighbors as well as exercise and nutrition.
We saw a number of adults and children working in this garden. It turned out that they were volunteers helping the local farmer.
The Plant It Forward Farms originated in Houston because of two University of St. Thomas alumni. Graduating just one year apart in 1976 and 1977 they wished to do something about the plight of African refugees who find themselves living in Houston. Many of them used to be farmers in their own countries.
Theresa O’Connell and her brother Pat decided that with a little help from local sources, those refugees could become successful farmers once again. The refugee farmers could then support their families and gain back their independence and with it their self respect as contributing members of society.
They had already given up all that they knew and loved in their former countries. Many of them probably also risked their very lives in eventually getting over here. Here is much more about how this idea was generated and came to fruition in the video below. Teresa O’Donnell tells the story in her own words.
Of course they would need land, supplies and be taught how to successfully grow gardens with the Houston soil and climate conditions. From this seedling idea has sprung forth a bounty of support and willing participants in this new venture. The Plant It Forward Farms is a non-profit charity.
In talking to a young lady at the farm stand in Montrose, we found out that the University of St. Thomas has lent this 1/2 acre of land to be used for gardening. Some of the students at the university as well as other volunteers from local companies do volunteer work in this garden.
Farmer Roy Lemba is the Congolese refugee who is farming this land. He along with the volunteers use organic farming methods in growing the produce. We saw a massive compost pile. Herbs which repel pests are grown alongside a great number of vegetables. Crops are undoubtedly rotated so as not to deplete the soil of life giving nutrients.
Every Saturday this particular farm stand is open from 10am to 2pm.
We saw Farmer Roy go into the field and pull some fresh fennel. I couldn’t wait to purchase one of them for last nights meal. The fennel bulb was sauteed along with some caramelized onion and it accompanied some pan fried fish and a tossed green salad. My hubby and I both love that distinctive flavor of anise-like fennel. The fronds are saved and will be added to soups and other preparations.
Also purchased yesterday were a couple of luscious vine ripened tomatoes, a couple of cucumbers fresh from the field, a small bag of yellow beans, a bunch of beets, some arugula and some sorrel.
Neither of us had ever tasted sorrel and the young lady describing the mission of Plant It Forward Farms encouraged us to taste part of a leaf. It is very lemony in flavor. Farmer Roy spoke to me about how he likes to eat it in soup form.
Naturally I decided to give that a try and have just made my very first pot of sorrel soup today. It is currently chilling in our refrigerator and we will be giving it a try tonight. There are many recipes online. We decided to try one using leeks, a potato, some peas, chicken broth, water and a bit of sour creme. Before eating it will be given a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and topped with some hard boiled egg and slivered fresh sorrel leaves.
It was fun talking to Farmer Roy. Buying locally grown items harvested just that very day is bound to beat the flavor much less the nutritional value of the same items shipped from far away places to local grocery stores. We are looking forward to eating more of his home grown items.
There are other such farms in Houston and they sell not only at their local market stands. Some chefs from well known restaurants are purchasing their products. Their goods are also shown at a number of other farmers markets. Individuals can sign up to get a weekly box of locally grown produce with a wide variety of seasonal items delivered to locations around the city.
If this sounds like something you would like to do, CLICK HERE for prices and locations. You can also learn more about this wonderful organization.