Urban farm concept gives islanders access to fresh and local food
A few years ago, the corner of 33rd Street and Avenue N in Galveston was a littered, overgrown vacant lot. Today, it’s lined with rows of raised garden beds growing seasonal vegetables and fruit tree saplings beginning to lay down their roots.
Since nonprofit organization Seeding Galveston moved in, neighbors no longer avoid the lot, but gather there to buy greens and tomatoes instead.
Seeding Galveston has a simple mission with deep implications. It’s dedicated to making healthy, locally grown food available and accessible to everyone, and, over time, changing the food culture of the island by getting people to move away from processed and fast food and toward community-raised food from local farms and gardens.
“It’s a weird thing trying to look at an island the size of Galveston and thinking we can change the way it operates,” Seeding Galveston co-founder John Sessions said. “It’s ambitious, but it’s important. It can do nothing but make it a better place to live.”
Two years ago, Sessions teamed up with longtime sustainable farmer and journalist Debbie Berger to take over operations at Deborah’s Community Garden at 25th and Postoffice streets. Sessions and Berger noticed the large number of abandoned, vacant lots around the island. They gave a presentation to the city council about converting the lots into neighborhood gardens.
Island residents Craig and Angela Brown learned of their mission and soon after donated the 1-acre lot at 33rd Street and Avenue N to the cause. In contrast to the classic community garden model at Deborah’s, where community members can rent beds to plant and tend their own crops, the flagship 33rd Street and Avenue N property is a “neighborhood farm” concept, Sessions said.
There aren’t beds for rent there, but all of the produce grown and eggs from hens at the property are either donated to those in need or sold way below market rates to the public during Seeding Galveston’s Wednesday morning farmstands. In addition to veggies and eggs, the group also is raising bees and goats.
Seeding Galveston also has taken over the quarter-acre member garden behind St. Augustine of Hippo, the oldest African-American Episcopal Church in Texas. Within the coming year, Seeding Galveston hopes to open a second farm stand there to serve people in the neighborhood, especially older folks walking by.
Supporting local social service agencies and grass roots organizations, Seeding Galveston provides service beds, plants, materials and educational support for groups such as the Girl Scouts, churches, the University of Texas Medical Branch Greenies and the School of Health Professions to set and grow their own food donation goals, doubling or tripling the amount of food the organization is able to donate on its own.
Seeding Galveston also partners with Streetscape Ministries and Our Daily Bread to provide meals to the needy, who typically have access to only canned and processed goods.
“Being able to feed people is really amazing,” Berger said. “One time, we took cucumbers to Cici, the cook at Our Daily Bread. She sliced them, put them in water, and set it up like in fine hotels for their clients, to say: ‘We’re going to treat you as well as a hotel would treat their best-paying customers.’”
Reintroducing fresh food into the minds and mouths of the community doesn’t stop with growing and selling it, though. One tenet of the organization’s four-pronged approach is education. Both Sessions and Berger describe moments of childlike discovery among children and adults as the most rewarding parts of their stewardship of locally grown food.
“We don’t just do the Wednesday farmstand to sell food,” Sessions said. “It also solidifies the idea that food is grown in the ground. The other day, we were digging up potatoes and there were adults buying vegetables, watching us, who never knew that potatoes come out of the ground. Selling is a means to an end of connecting everyone to community and home gardening.”
One of Berger’s favorite memories is of introducing a young toddler to sugary sweet “Sungold” cherry tomatoes, she said.
“You can’t buy them at the supermarket because they split so fast after you pick them, so this 3- or 4-year-old little boy was very hesitant to taste them,” Berger said. “John was holding one out, encouraging him, ‘Just taste it, it’s delicious.’ Well, he finally popped it in his mouth and his face lit up.”
The young boy indeed agreed the Sungold was delicious, Berger said.
“That little boy didn’t know that tomatoes grow in a garden, but now he does,” Berger said.
The organization will begin providing classes to the community in September, teaching families such things as how to organize dinner menus around what’s growing locally and in season; how to work with whole foods; and how to start their own kitchen or community garden.
“We can’t feed the whole island on this 1 acre, but through teaching, eventually we can, because you’re feeding yourself on what you’ve learned,” Sessions said.
Inspired by the front yard garden movement and her trips to Melbourne, Australia, where the 3000 Acres program plans to convert that amount of space into urban gardens, she hopes to help everyone who is able to have a garden on the island.
“Every time I see people watering their grass I think, ‘that could be a garden,’” Berger said. “A lot of people already garden here. We want to help everyone who can to build beds in their yards. We’ve also considered planting fruit trees by the sidewalk, so that people can just walk by and pick fruit. That way we’re putting our water into the growth of food instead of grass, and saving everyone money in the process.”
Seeding Galveston Wednesday morning farmstand
WHEN: 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Produce sells out, get there early.
WHERE: 33rd Street and Avenue N, Galveston
COST: Overstuffed bag of greens, $2; half dozen eggs, $2; bunch of carrots/radishes, $1; paper bag of peppers/tomatoes, $1.50
HELP WANTED: Seeding Galveston is in constant need of volunteers. No experience needed. Contact the group at email@example.com to set an appointment.
After stopping by the Seeding Galveston farm stand, you might find yourself with some new vegetables you’ve never before seen or tasted. This is a great opportunity to learn about new foods and how to cook with them. Sorrel is a fast-growing lemon-flavored perennial green not carried in American supermarkets but can be found at some farmers markets. Fish cooked in sorrel sauce is a French staple — and perfect for coastal cooking. Use any mild fish you like, such as flounder, golden tile and grouper.
Fish in Sorrel Cream Sauce
Four 1-pound whole fish; or four ½-pound fillets
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons butter
1 bunch green onions, chopped
2 heaping cups fresh sorrel leaves, stems and heavy veins removed, chopped
1⁄3 cup dry vermouth or white wine vinegar
1½ cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Lump crabmeat for garnish
Set oven to broil. Rinse whole fish or fillets and pat dry. Season both sides with salt and pepper, place on a broiler pan, and cook 10 minutes per inch of thickness.
To make the sauce, melt butter over medium low heat in a medium saucepan. Add green onions and cook until just starting to brown, not stirring too often, about 8 minutes.
Add sorrel, reserving about ¼ cup for garnish. Continue cooking until wilted, about another 5 minutes. It will turn brown as it cooks; this is normal. Add vermouth or vinegar and cook over low heat until slightly reduced, about 10 minutes. Gradually pour in cream, stirring vigorously to combine well.
Add lemon juice, turn heat to medium, and cook until thickened, about 10 minutes. Remove pan from heat and season with salt and pepper to taste.
To serve, ladle a generous amount of sauce in the center of each plate.
Place whole fish or fillet over the sauce and garnish with fresh chopped sorrel leaves and lump crabmeat.
(Recipe adapted from www.motherearthliving.com)