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
Two chefs at the Mobile Market
Two chefs at the Mobile Market

In 2021, Urban Harvest contributed to a more resilient, community-driven food system by investing in strategies and activities that increased the sustainability of our work while creating community-driven spaces where fresh, healthy food is the easy economic choice for all.

To support the sustainability of our Community Gardens’ network, we operate hub distributions wherein gardens engage with theirpeers, and receiveeducation, seeds, plants, and resources at no cost to grow and maintain their gardens.Our goal in 2021 was to bring 90 unique gardens or more to our hub distributions. With your support, in 2021 Urban Harvest reached a total of 103 unique gardens through hub distributions. This outcome also translated into increased opportunities for local economic development: in 2021, we purchased 100% of our transplants for our hub distributions from local producers, resulting in 6,878 transplants delivered to our gardens, compared to 4,006 in 2020.  

Finally, to address the growing health, economic, and environmental inequity of low-income, low-access individuals in Houston, Texas, in 2021 Urban Harvest developed three interventions in partnership with Federally Qualified Health Clinics, and Community Organizations such as BakerRipley, Project Row Houses, and Trinity United Methodist Church. Our three interventions included (1) A printed mailer that was sent on June 27, 2021, to 21,872 households located within Urban Harvest’s four priority neighborhoods; (2) A loyalty card to increase the customer retention rate and overall experience in the Northeast Community Farmers Market; and (3) The opportunity to join a special holiday food tasting event hosted by “Homemade Hope”. This event took place on November 6th, 2021 at the Northeast Market. At the event, attendees received a special holiday gift to thank them for visiting the market that day. In 2021, Urban Harvest expanded our food access programming in partnership with the Kinder Institute for Urban Research. This partnership allowed Urban Harvest to build capacity around data which is reflected in our ability to collect, analyze, and communicate data across our organization and communities more efficiently. This partnership has also increased accountability for our staff, further allowing us to show our impact to a wider audience and secure funding to continue our efforts as a result.

Finally, in 2021 our Volunteer Program onboarded a total of 30 projects from affiliate gardens including 17 school garden projects and 13 community gardens including the Houston Food Bank Kitchen Garden, BakerRipley Harbach Garden, and El Centro de Corazon Dunn Garden, among other garden projects. In addition to this, 15 additional projects received support from our volunteers including on-site support at our office (seed sorting, etc.) and events (Sunday Supper, Winter Festival, etc.) were implemented. This was made possible with the support of 413 volunteers who completed 236 serving dates (compared to 103 in 2020), which represents 2,995 hours of volunteer work, almost triple since 2020 (1,062 hours).

Visitor count day at the farmers market
Visitor count day at the farmers market
Volunteer day at Gregory Lincoln Education Center
Volunteer day at Gregory Lincoln Education Center

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Grow Kits
Grow Kits

After a year of being handed proverbial lemons, Urban Harvest continued to persevere and turn those lemons into lemonade. With your support, we made tremendous strides in cultivating healthy communities across our city.


In the aftermath of Winter Storm “Uri,” 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. 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. Results from this study also revealed community gardens were 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. In response to the growing needs of our community of vendors, Urban Harvest took immediate action to waive the market fees for a minimum of 2 months, putting approximately $20,000 back in the hands of farmers and ranchers. In April 2021, Urban Harvest also launched “Vendor U,”- a set of online training modules - with support from partners such as GlobalGiving. Designed to build capacity and resilience for future crises, “Vendor U” delivers hands-on education on topics such as social media promotion and co-packing to farmers market vendors, and in 2022, Urban Harvest will expand training to include a total of ten topics that ultimately cultivate brand awareness, foster customer loyalty; and diversifies their direct-to-consumer revenue channels.

Since 2003, our Youth Education Program adopts a project-based learning (PBL) approach to teach children hands-on lessons in school gardensto enhance classroom learning andpromoteyouth health. In 2019, the Education Program reached 9,500 students andin 2020,Urban Harvest’staught 9,382 students in 19 partner sites, 82% of which are located at Title 1 schools.These students engaged in over 7,728 hours of outdoor activity in a safe, local greenspace– deepening students’ knowledge of where food comes from and how it can be used. To support the sustainability of our Youth Education Program and build capacity within our network of 76 affiliated school gardens, in 2016 Urban Harvest launched the Edible Academy. Today, the Edible Academy has increased the impact of Urban Harvest’s Youth Education Program, becoming an established "train the trainer,” multi-day workshop designed for school teachers to connect with each other and explorelessons in gardening and culinary arts that support TEKS objectives, and other techniques and curriculum for using their school gardenas anOutdoor Classroom. In 2020, the Edible Academy reached 20 educators who went on to teach an additional 7,959 students and 172 teachers the benefits of gardening and healthy lifestyle behaviors. In 2021, we reached 17 educators who will go on to teach an additional 2,489 students and 273 teachers. Testimonials collected through our Edible Academy Survey also support the impact of our work with teachers: As one teacher shared with us, “She gained much excitement to begin a classroom garden. And then to learn more about incorporating permaculture and insect awareness! This training was amazing! She looks forward to becoming a member and continuing the relationship with Urban Harvest through my school and branching out to use this knowledge to volunteer elsewhere.”

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2020 Urban Harvest also launched the “Grow Kits” pilot Summer Enrichment Program– a hybrid model to deliver organic and nutrition education (in Spanish and English), along with resources such as transplants, seeds, and soil for students to engage in organic gardening along with low-cost and healthy recipes, virtual cooking-demos, and more. Our Grow Kits summer pilot wasco-implementedwith 7 schools and community partners. With a successful pilot in place, and based on positive feedback from our school partners, in October 2020, Urban Harvest delivered Grow Kits to 1,500 families, through a network of 29 partner organizations, most of these schools serving economically disadvantaged students.in 2021Urban Harvest extended the opportunity to receive Grow Kits and “reboot kits” to our existing school partners and new schools interested in this program. In total, our Grow Kits program served 14 Title 1 schools and distributed 690Grow Kitsthat enhanced classroom education and engaged students and their families in Urban Harvest programming. 

In 2019, Urban Harvest launched Double Up Houston, a SNAP incentive program to open safe, equitable pathways for low-income and food-insecure individuals and families to access healthy food, while also providing income support to local farms and small businesses. In light of Covid-19, Urban Harvest also increased the SNAP match for Double Up Houston from $20 to $40 per day, on produce at sixteen farmers markets and farm standsFinally, expanding on Urban Harvest’s food access strategy, in 2020 Urban Harvest launched its first Mobile Market to offer consistent and reliable food options that are accessible, and adequate – culturally, nutritionally, and economically– along with Double Up programming directly at locations that are frequented by food-insecure communities. Today, Urban Harvest's Mobile Market operates at eight locations including New Hope Housing, BakerRipley in East Aldine; and the Northeast Community Farmers Market in Northeast Houston; El Centro de Corazon and Plaza Santa Clara in East End; and Trinity United Methodist Church and Project Row Houses in the Third Ward community. At each site, Urban Harvest includes community leaders and representatives in decision-making to ensure the cultural competency of our programming. In addition to fresh and locally-sourced healthy foods, this market on wheels” also engages shoppers with their nearby farmers market or farm stands operating Double Up, further supporting our local economy and food enterprises in low-income, low-access neighborhoods. Today, our first Mobile Market operates at full capacity and has created valuable evidence around the benefits of this collaborative, holistic, and adaptable intervention to increase healthy food choices in historically underserved communities. 

With your support, in 2021 Urban Harvest continued to build culturally-appropriate pathways for underserved individuals families to choose nutritious foods, engage in outdoor, edible greenspace, connect to resources within their community. We appreciate your trust during these unprecedented times. With your support, Urban Harvest will continue to fulfill its mission of cultivating thriving communities through gardening and access to healthy, local food.

Sincerely,

Grow Kits Team
Grow Kits Team
Farmers Market Team
Farmers Market Team
Volunteer
Volunteer
Volunteer at school
Volunteer at school
Volunteers
Volunteers
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Kids with Grow Kits
Kids with Grow Kits

Urban Harvest was founded in 1994 by individuals who believed that people could feed and revitalize their communities by growing healthy food. This core belief led to the creation of community gardens that address important issues like hunger, health, community development, and ecological, equitable land management. The Community Gardens Program paved the way for organic garden education: our Gardening Classes teach and promote the benefits of organic and sustainable methods, and our Youth Education Program has taught children hands-on lessons in school gardensto enhance classroom learning andpromoteyouth health since 2003. In 2004, Urban Harvest opened a year-round farmers market – now the largest in the region – that provides economic opportunity for local growers and gardeners and offers a community space for Houstonians to gather and share. Urban Harvest is supported by a hardworking staff of 9,a dedicated 12-person Board of Directors, a network of thousands of volunteers, and many individuals, foundations, community partners, and businesses.More than 25 years later, Urban Harvest continues to enrich the lives, soils, and plates of Houstonians. 

In light of Covid-19, Urban Harvest is committed to doing its part to ensure everyone stays healthy, active, and nutritiously fed. In 2020, we launched “Grow Resilience,” a crisis-response strategy to continue providing resources and education, economic development, and food to those who need it most. Under Grow Resilience, our Education Program has delivered organic gardening education to 2,200 individuals and almost 4,000 school students; our Double Up Houston program matches up to $40 a day in fruits and vegetables at 16 farmers markets and farm stands across the city including our recently launched Mobile Market; our Community Gardens program now offers socially-distant volunteer opportunities, and our Farmers Markets continues to offer drive-thru options and support to a network of 95 small-scale businesses. As we learn what is needed to support our schools and communities, we are piloting innovative approaches to increase community engagement and creating the systems to expand our impact and make sure we are building lasting partnerships based on our community’s needs. To accomplish this, in 2021 Urban Harvest is investing in improving our existing programming, marketing, technologies, and systems in place to meet the increased demand for our services.

With the invaluable support of donors like you, Urban Harvest will continue to champion the vision that started it all: support fresh, real food – and those who grow and raise it. With your support, we will together cultivate thriving communities for a healthier, more sustainable Houston.

Learn more about our impact in Houston at: www.urbanharvest.org

At the garden
At the garden
Food Access team
Food Access team

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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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Organization Information

Urban Harvest

Location: Houston, TX - USA
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Project Leader:
Janna Roberson
Houston, TX United States
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