Grow Resilience: Food Access & Local Ag in Houston

by Urban Harvest
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Grow Resilience: Food Access & Local Ag in Houston
Grow Resilience: Food Access & Local Ag in Houston
Grow Resilience: Food Access & Local Ag in Houston
Grow Resilience: Food Access & Local Ag in Houston
Grow Resilience: Food Access & Local Ag in Houston
Grow Resilience: Food Access & Local Ag in Houston
Grow Resilience: Food Access & Local Ag in Houston
Grow Resilience: Food Access & Local Ag in Houston
Grow Resilience: Food Access & Local Ag in Houston
Grow Resilience: Food Access & Local Ag in Houston
Grow Resilience: Food Access & Local Ag in Houston
Grow Resilience: Food Access & Local Ag in Houston
Grow Resilience: Food Access & Local Ag in Houston
Grow Resilience: Food Access & Local Ag in Houston
Grow Resilience: Food Access & Local Ag in Houston
Fruit Trees in Houston, TX
Fruit Trees in Houston, TX

From farm to table, freezing temperatures and power outages disrupted the food supply chain in Houston, Texas. 

Between February 22nd and March 8th, 2021, Urban Harvest reached out to our community members including over 140 community gardens and 95 farmers, ranchers, and food vendors to assess the impact of Winter Storm "Uri" in our local agricultural and food sectors. Results from our Impact Report show a wide range of short-term damage caused by “Uri” and highlight the current needs of our local growers, creating an opportunity to further support our food system through targeted action.

IMPACT ON FARMERS MARKET VENDORS

Responses from our Saturday Farmers market vendors provide an overview of the magnitude of the damage in the hyper-local food sector including short-term and long-term crop losses, physical damage to the operations, and financial hardships:

  • Due to the freezing temperatures, five out of ten farmers lost 50% or more of their crops and many more expect to see the extent of the damage in their fruit tree orchards in the months to come. With no electricity for refrigeration or heating, farmers, ranchers, and food vendors suffered a wide range of damage: Food spoilage caused inventory losses including wilted produce and value-added products and freeze temperatures killed over 6 calves and many bee colonies.

  • Regarding the financial hardships associated with their businesses, our Saturday, 60% of our farmers market vendors reported a decrease in sales at our market, compared to a 70% decrease in sales outside the market, stressing the importance of our farmers markets remaining open regardless of the inclement weather.

  • As the majority of our vendors are small businesses and therefore the majority provide part-time and seasonal employees with an income, there is also underreported damage regarding the loss of income for all of the employees that couldn’t get paid for the days that didn’t work.

  • Compared to the same week in 2020, a total estimated economic damage of $50,173.8 was calculated as a consequence of the extremely low temperatures on our Saturday 20th, 2021 market.

In the aftermath of “Uri,” farmers, ranchers, and food vendors expressed their ongoing needs: 26% of the businesses surveyed stated needs related to cashflow and employees’ safety and income stability, while another 26% expressed the need to have access to resources such as compost, plants, or hay to feed animals.

IMPACT ON AFFILIATE GARDENS' NETWORK

Results from this study revealed also community gardens been adversely impacted by the extremely low temperatures of the winter storm: 60% of our gardens reported immediate losses of 50% or more of their crops. Out of 94 gardens that provided their input, 31 gardens have lost between 50% and 75% of their production, and 29 have lost between 76% and 100% of their harvest. 

The results from this network-wide Impact Report also gauged gardens’ top priorities and needs within our affiliate gardens network. Key findings show that in light of the current damage, almost 70% ofsurveyed gardens are in need of new plants, 60% are in need of extra seeds, and almost 30% are in need of volunteers. 

Based on responses from the Impact Report, on March 6th, 2021, 90 unique gardens participated in our seasonal hub distribution and received thousands of seed packages, transplants, organic fertilizer, gardening tools, and other resources to get their gardens back in shape for the Spring season. 

As we continue to assess the magnitude of the damage, Urban Harvest is taking immediate action to remediate the impact of “Uri" on our network of farmers, ranchers, and community gardens across the Greater Houston Area. We expect to continue to see the residual costs from this disaster will continue to impact many local growers for years to come.”   

Crops from one of our farmers market vendors
Crops from one of our farmers market vendors
Fruit Trees from one of our farmers market vendors
Fruit Trees from one of our farmers market vendors

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Girl with her Grow Kit!
Girl with her Grow Kit!

Our August 2020 Report presented the results from our recently launched Urban Harvest’s Mobile Market. Our December 2020 Report highlights our new “Grow Kits” Program. We hope you enjoy it and support our mission of cultivating thriving communities through gardening and access to healthy, local food in Houston, Texas.  

Access to affordable, healthy food; reliable economic opportunities; and safe, outdoor green space has never been more important. Urban Harvest is committed to doing our part to ensure everyone stays healthy, active, and nutritiously fed. As a result of COVID-19, the city of Houston and Harris County have seen a dramatic rise in unmet food needs. In February 2020 Urban Harvest launched “Grow Resilience,” a crisis-response strategy to continue providing resources and education, economic development, and food to those who need it most. In 2020, Urban Harvest is exploring new technologies and adapting existing programming and communication approaches to meet the increased demand for our services, especially those services supporting underserved schools. 

Coronavirus has exacerbated food insecurity and socioeconomic disparities across our region. Moreover, under-resourced schools serving economically disadvantaged families have been the most affected, with significantly less funding for enrichment programs. Many of the benefits of garden education are experiential and hands-on, this is why Urban Harvest is exploring how to deliver meaningful learning experiences in a socially distanced world, particularly for students and schools that are chronically under-served.    

Under Grow Resilience, our Education program is re-imagining how to continue to support educators and deliver meaningful learning opportunities for school students, while also using this crisis as an opportunity to connect with parents by using new technologies to engage families in household gardening. Since March 2020 all of our traditional in-person classes, are transitioning to a free online format with opensource webinars, remote classes, virtual cooking demos, kids’ activities, organic gardening videos, blogs, and recipe cards to make garden and nutrition education accessible to all.  

As we learn what is needed to support our schools and communities, we are piloting innovative approaches to increase our connection with students and the general public and creating the appropriate systems to expand our impact, include new partnerships, making sure we are building lasting partnerships based on our community’s needs. One of them is the “Grow Kits” program – a hybrid model that is delivering organic and nutrition education (in Spanish and English), along with resources such as transplants, seeds, and soil for students to engage in organic gardening, and encouraging their parents to learn about how to access healthy food options by sharing material about SNAP and Double Up, low-cost and healthy recipes, virtual cooking-demos, and more. Our Grow Kits summer pilot was designed and implemented with 7 schools and community partners including Gallegos Elementary, Lantrip Elementary, Gregory Lincoln Education Center, Trinity Classical School, LosNiñosEarly Childhood Montessori Program, Pin Oak Middle School, and El Centro del Corazon.   

Based on our learning from the first pilot, in July Urban Harvest developed a process to expand the Grow Kits program to reach another 1,500 households. In August we identified the organizations that best fit the needs of our target population and each of them completed an online application form. In total, we identified 35 organizations with aligned interests to serve economically disadvantaged families, older adults, and children. In September and October 2020, Urban Harvest distributed 1,150 Grow Kits to 25 schools, along with online resources and education to support teachers and encourage them to use Grow Kits as learning tools. Based on the Grow Kits application form, 95% of these organizations  plan to use Grow Kits as learning tools and half of these organizations have a good idea on how to make a good use of them.” To make sure everyone has access to learning resources, UrbanHarvest has developed a series of YouTube videos and Facebook videos that show how to use Grow Kits and the best plants to start with. 

By utilizing “Grow Kits” as a mechanism to create trust and connect with our priority communities, Urban Harvest is creating opportunities for beneficiaries to engage with Urban Harvest in a variety of ways; thereby, creating sustainable pathways for them to participate at our farmers markets, engage in our organic gardening classes, and learn more about the benefits of joining our growing community. In January 2020, Urban Harvest will embark on the evaluation process of Grow Kits as effective learning mechanisms for children and families to engage in healthy eating. To do this, we will receive support from health students that will ensure the reliability and validity of this research project. With this, we expect to identify opportunities to improve this program and better serve these families. As we identify opportunities for improvement, we will also gather educators’ feedback to make sure our future programs support their work both virtually and in-person.  

Today, Grow Resilience is maximizing local opportunity and Urban Harvest's established relationships to quickly adapt, scale, and promote our interventions that address COVID-19-related needs. Urban Harvest has demonstrated experience in this rapid response marketing, utilizing our well-established scope and reach to engage high numbers of Harris County residents. With over 25 years of leadership in the local food system, Urban Harvest is uniquely poised to lead holistic interventions that target equitable food access, local agricultural production, and healthy food education. We expect that the “Grow Kits” and our recently launched Urban Harvest’s Mobile Market pilot initiatives become cross-sector collaborations that build capacity for our organization and food system, and resilience for our city. 

We appreciate all your support during these unprecedented times, and we look forward to continuing to collaborate in the future. 

Grow Kits Demo
Grow Kits Demo

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Mobile Market launched in August 5 2020 in Houston
Mobile Market launched in August 5 2020 in Houston

Coronavirus has exacerbated food insecurity and socioeconomic disparities across our region. As a result of COVID-19, the city of Houston and Harris County have seen a dramatic rise in unmet food needs. In February 2020 Urban Harvest launched “Grow Resilience,” a crisis-response strategy to continue providing resources and education, economic development, and food to those who need it most. In 2020, Urban Harvest is exploring new technologies and adapting existing programming and communication approaches to meet the increased demand for our services.

Under Grow Resilience, our Education program is re-imagining how to continue to support educators and deliver meaningful learning opportunities for school students, while also using this crisis as an opportunity to connect with parents by using new technologies to engage families in household gardening. Since March 2020 all of our traditional in-person classes, are transitioning to a free online format with opensource webinars, remote classes, virtual cooking demos, kids’ activities, organic gardening videos, blogs, and recipe cards to make garden and nutrition education accessible to all. As we learn what is needed to support our schools and communities, we are piloting innovative approaches to increase our connection with students and the general public and creating the appropriate systems to expand our impact, include new partnerships, making sure we are building lasting partnerships based on our community’s needs. 

In 2019, our Community Gardens program consolidated its model based on our organization’s strategic plan, shifting its focus from creating to sustaining gardens. Under “Grow Resilience” Urban Harvest is increasing the sustainability of the network while ensuring the safety and health of our gardeners. In light of Covid-19, a network-wide needs assessment identified our affiliate gardens’ most critical needs and priorities. To continue supporting our network of gardens, we have continued to deliver resources to our growing network of gardens through our Distribution “Hubs”. During our latest Hub in May 2020, we reached a total of 62 community gardens; 35 of them located in low-income, low-access areas; 15 Title 1 School gardens; and 14 donation gardens that are providing healthy food for the people who need it the most. Today, our focus continues to sustain our affiliate gardens with a special interest in increasing our impact in low-income, low-access neighborhoods and finding new ways to deliver resources and knowledge to tackle current challenges.

During these unprecedented times, Urban Harvest has institutionalized and expanded the impact of our Double Up program ensuring uninterrupted services even during times of crisis. Our Double Up Houston program has been at the forefront of existing gaps in food affordability, creating sustainable pathways for Houstonians to access healthy food by increasing the SNAP match from $20 to $30 per day on produce at thirteen farmers markets, farm stands, and pop-up sites across the city. To bring healthy food options closer to our beneficiaries, our SNAP-eligible Double Up Houston CSA (Community Supportive Agriculture) initiative allows shoppers to pick up their pre-packaged produce boxes via a contactless drive-thru. Double Up Houston brings together a broad network of 61 active partners including 34 Community partners, six Double Up Steering Committee members, an active network of 13 sites including farm stands and farmers markets located predominantly in underserved areas, seven Health Providers, and ten members of the Northeast Advisory Committee. These new adaptations are allowing Double Up Houston to make sure we continue to provide direct assistance to farmers and vendors through an increased customer base, new sales streams, and broader outreach and marketing.

Access to affordable, healthy food; reliable economic opportunities; and safe, outdoor green space has never been more important. Urban Harvest is committed to doing our part to ensure everyone stays healthy, active, and nutritiously fed.  As we build towards a more robust and resilient organization, we are piloting two innovative initiatives as part of our Grow Resilience strategy: The Urban Harvest Mobile Market which is closing gaps in food access and affordability in underserved neighborhoods; and The Summer Enrichment “Grow Kits” initiative which is piloting new pathways to deliver socially-distant organic gardening education, resources, and information about SNAP and Double Up Houston to underserved families, encouraging them to explore nature and grow healthy food at home.

Today, Grow Resilience is maximizing local opportunity and Urban Harvest's established relationships to quickly adapt, scale, and promote our interventions that address COVID-19-related needs. UrbanHarvest has demonstrated experience in this rapid response marketing, utilizing our well-established scope and reach to engage high numbers of Harris County residents. With over 25 years of leadership in the local food system, Urban Harvest is uniquely poised to lead holistic interventions that target equitable food access, local agricultural production, and healthy food education. We expect that the “Grow Kits” and our recently launched Urban Harvest’s Mobile Market pilot initiatives become cross-sector collaborations that build capacity for our organization and food system, and resilience for our city. Additionally, these collaborations are providing Urban Harvest with more robust insights into the interests and needs of our constituents, access to greater resources, and allowing our organization to be responsive to the priorities of those we serve.

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Organization Information

Urban Harvest

Location: Houston, TX - USA
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Project Leader:
Janna Roberson
Houston, TX United States
$715 raised of $200,000 goal
 
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