Houston Entrepreneurs Have Plans to Make Houston Food Deserts History

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • It’s always fun to watch the efforts of visionary people and organizations that are committed to making a difference.  Lately, it seems that entrepreneurs in many cities across the United States are looking to solve major issues plaguing food availability so that everyone can have access to food.


    Here’s an example. A couple of months ago, I wrote a sharepost about food deserts, which are places where residents do not have easy access to fresh produce and other healthy food choices, such as whole grains and low-fat milk. These areas often are located in impoverished areas that don’t have grocery stores, farmers’ markets and healthy food providers.

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    Enter Dany Millikin and Scott Snodgrass who are with Edible Earth Resources of Houston, Texas. Their company is a full service edible gardening firm that provides a wide variety of services such as edible landscaping and rainwater collection to help people grow their own food in a sustainable manner.


    As cool as their business is, I’m really impressed with what Millikin and Snodgrass are attempting now. They are working with a number of partners, including the City of Houston and some of the city’s most recognized chefs, to develop PLANTED:HOUSTON. According to the fundraising website for this effort, “PLANTED: HOUSTON is a system of sustainable urban farms, utilizing vacant city land which serves restaurants, the public and social programs. We are working with the City of Houston to turn delinquent lots into sustainable food producing farms. Our focus is on growing healthy, clean, nutrient dense food and then making it accessible to everyone (including those in food deserts).”


    I had the opportunity to interview Millikin, and here’s what he had to say about their effort:


    Question: Where did this idea for PLANTED: HOUSTON come from?


    Answer: The idea for PLANTED: HOUSTON came from our desire to grow more food, and to allow more people to grow their own food. Anyone who's been to Houston knows how much open space there is, even in the middle of the city. We saw the space and saw opportunity, so we wanted to see it being put to use.


    Question: Are there any other cities in the U.S. that are serving as your model or doing something similar?


    Answer: We have looked at urban farming projects across the country for inspiration, especially at projects that collaborate with their city to establish urban farming codes and designated garden space, like the Urban Garden District ordinance in Cleveland, OH, or Article 89 in Boston. But Houston already has an awesome framework in place that we wanted to utilize. Between the Mayor's "Healthy Houston Initiative" and the LARA (Land Assemblage Redevelopment Authority) lot program, Houston is basically waiting with open arms for urban agriculture to take hold. So far Urban Harvest (which is a Houston non-profit that offers community gardens, gardening and youth education, and farmers markets) has been the only organization to really take advantage of this framework, and we see it as untapped potential.


    Question: So is the property owned by the City of Houston? Or other people/companies?


    Answer: The LARA lots that we'll be leasing are owned by the city. The lots are blighted properties that the city has repossessed and then leases or sells. We've also considered planting orchards in lands along the floodplain, but we'd like to get started with the farm plots first. Since we've started our campaign we have been approached by private citizens with land that they would like to allow us to farm free of charge. While we are not asking for more land, we will consider the offer of any landowners that would like to allow us to farm on their property for an extended period.

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    Question: So are you going to create gardens only in food deserts around Houston or throughout the region (such as Katy, Sugar Land, League City, etc.)?


    Answer: We're focused on food deserts at the moment because that's where the LARA lots are located, and those are the communities that need the most help. But we recognize that not only is there is a demand outside of Houston proper for quality local produce, but there is an abundance of land. It'll be a while before we start any farms outside of the city, but we still do home and restaurant garden installations anywhere in the area.


    Question: Will this work as a community supported agriculture (CSA) for people who are interested in fresh produce? (In CSAs, a customer purchases a regular share of a farmer’s production, thus eliminating the middle man of the grocery store.)


    Answer: We will be selling something like a CSA that we call a produce "share" or "subscription", which will be available for regular citizens to pick up at our farms. What's cool is that we'll be donating a share of produce for every share bought, so folks can take part in helping heal our food deserts. We'd also like folks to pick their shares up at the farm where it's grown, so they can get can get to know a different part of the city better.


    Question: How did you select your chef partners? What's been their response?


    Answer: We reached out to a lot of chefs that are already cooking with local and seasonal produce, because they will be our best customers when the farms are producing. They love the idea of having a farm so close to their restaurants, and they love having the option of having a farmer contract grow for them. What we're offering to them is reliable, tastier, and more nutrient-dense produce, all while helping the city, and there are very few chefs that can say no to that.


    Question: How are the participating restaurants supporting PLANTED: HOUSTON?

    Answer: Monica Pope of Sparrow Bar+Cookshop and nutritionist Ali Miller recently held a Dinner as Medicine event as a benefit for PLANTED: HOUSTON. Other restaurants and bars also are hosting events to benefit us, such as our traveling speakeasies which are hosted at a different bar each Monday. Adam Dorris will also be hosting a dinner for us, and CanDO Houston will be using produce that we grow in their Healthy Corner Store Initiative, where they'll be cooking and teaching about healthy eating in convenience stores in Houston food deserts.


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    Question: Why is this type of program important to a major city like Houston?


    Answer: A program like PLANTED: HOUSTON is important in Houston because during a time of such great economic success here, people are still suffering from food scarcity within the city limits. This project is about Houston growing together, about the success of the food and restaurant community benefiting those with little access to healthy food. Health nuts who want to eat local are giving back to those suffering from diet-related issues. It’s also about the desire for local food transforming neighborhoods that have been plagued with blight and using sustainable economics to support sustainable growing practices. In a major city like Houston, PLANTED: HOUSTON is the future.


Published On: August 27, 2014

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