Chronicle Reports on Hope

Recipe for Success
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Chron image of Justin.jpgNonprofit Recipe for Success brings produce, jobs to Sunnyside as reported by John D. Harden / Houston Chronicle, August 7, 2017

By mid-morning, Justin Myers' hands were covered with dirt, his stubble dripped with sweat and his clothes smelled like the dark soil he was using to plant the upcoming season's crops.

He and six other volunteers arrived in Sunny-side at 6 a.m. Wednesday to tend to the okra, cabbage and peppers planted through winter and spring and to prepare for the farm's first autumn production. <<Read the entire article.>>

It's one benefit of Houston's year-round subtropical climate.

"We're now hoping to get the farm into full swing," said Myers, who said he and others were using the first few months of operation as a test to weed out any bugs at Hope Farms -- a 7.6-acre community farm that sits on the corner of Airport Boulevard and Scott Street along Sunnyside's southern edge.

Myers is the chief agricultural officer for the nonprofit Recipe for Success, an organization led by Grace Cavnar that founded Hope Farms in mid-2016 and began production in December 2016.

The project was supported by fundraising efforts and Wells Fargo, which funded a $200,000 community grant.

The farm has become somewhat of a novelty in Sunnyside -- one of Houston's most underserved and impoverished areas. A Houston Chronicle analysis of the community's businesses revealed that Sunnyside lost at least 200 businesses in the last 10 years. During that time, Sunnyside developed the highest unemployment rate in Houston and a local economy that has yet to recover from the Great Recession in 2008.

Recognized dilemma

The community also is one of Houston's many food deserts, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

A food desert is a low-income census tract where either a substantial number of residents have low access to a supermarket or large grocery store, according to the federal agency.

And for Sunnyside, finding a variety of fresh produce is difficult.

"You don't have much to choose from around here," Myers said. "And if you're lucky enough to have transportation or a car, you drive to another neighborhood miles away to do your shopping."

The organizers of Hope Farms recognized Sunny-side's dilemma.

That's why the location was chosen and why the food grown at the farm will go to those living nearby, as will the jobs the garden generates.

"This is what I always wanted the space to become," said Noah Rattler, who works at the farm as an apprentice. "Houston has a lot of places to grow food. It has enough food for everyone, but it's affected by the way we choose to distribute it."

Myers said that about 50 percent of the produce grown -- like peppers, tomatoes and okra -- will go to the community at a neighborhood discount at 8 a.m. every Saturday at the farm.

The remaining produce will be sold to local restaurants and other farm-sharing programs.

This is the farm's first summer, and the farm crew is using it as a test run to figure out future needs as the farm expands.

About 2 acres are currently under production, but Myers hopes to expand that to four.

The farm didn't begin production until December 2016 after the farmers managed to get the necessary water infrastructure installed.

There are plans to add more rows of crops, fruit trees, a greenhouse and a barn.

'All coming together'

The farm sits on a plot of land that was once the home of Carnegie Elementary School -- a school named after Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish immigrant who rose to become a steel tycoon and philanthropist, according to the Houston Independent School District.

It opened in 1963 and closed in 2002. When the school was demolished in 2012, Hope Farms grew in its place, providing what many believe to be another service the community desperately needed -- access to fresh produce and jobs.

"It's good to see it all coming together," Myers said. "There are some challenges, but that comes with the territory. But the goal is to turn this into a full-fledge resource for the community."market day at Hope Farms.jpg

And thanks to Houston's long, hot summers and short temperate winters, the farm will see hardly any down time.

"We can grow food year-round. This is the low point. August is where the fewest things grow," Myers said.

In addition to the community efforts, the farm will focus on building sustainable horticulture, providing courses in business planning and supporting new entrepreneurs as they establish and grow their own enterprises.

"We're in the next wave of production," Myers said. "Now it's about solidifying where we are and delivering what we're promising to the community."

Chron image of Justin HEADER.jpg

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