Keepers of island garden spread the gospel about locally sourced food
The February ice storm wreaked havoc across Texas, and Seeding Galveston’s urban farm at 33rd Street and Avenue N wasn’t spared.
Despite volunteers’ furious efforts to rescue as many plants as possible, the bitterly cold temperatures wiped out everything but a few garlic chives. The property’s pipes burst. And sadly, a little later in the week, one of the farm’s goats died from pregnancy complications shortly after giving birth.
Only the week after the storm did their prospects begin to brighten.
“The blessing in that was that we had perfect weather,” said John Sessions, who runs the local nonprofit with partner Debbie Berger. “The plants that we had in here, even though it was lush and fully planted, they weren’t thriving at their peak. I mean, they were good, and the size you’d expect for January or February.
“But when we were allowed to have that beautiful week after the freeze, we got plants that then got a new start, and they were thriving,” he added.
Luckily, the one area of the farm that went relatively untouched was the greenhouse, which was stocked with seedlings that escaped the cold — “the warmest spot in town,” joked Sessions.
Just a few weeks later, a remarkable change has come over the farm, which Sessions and Berger began tending in 2014.
Its beds now are filled with vegetables in all stages of growth, from shoots barely poking out of the soil to stalks well over 6 feet high. Types of produce recently on offer at their Wednesday morning farm-stand market included tomatoes, turnips, corn, peppers, arugula, carrots, radishes, cucumbers, broccoli, a plethora of herbs and several salad bars’ worth of greens and lettuce.
Meanwhile, the goat population grew so large, Seeding Galveston recently donated several animals to a man in Richmond who was looking to start his own herd. Turkeys and chickens strut and peck at the rear of the nearly 1-acre lot; a handful of the latter have their blood drawn every so often to assist in the county’s mosquito control.
One of Sessions’ primary goals lately has been to help the farm increase its “curb appeal” with a variety of aesthetic improvements. He’s planning a terraced herb garden, and an elevated wooden bed near 33rd Street eventually will contain a Southern-themed cornucopia including cotton, okra, sweet potatoes and black-eyed lima beans.
“The more people that know about us, like us and want to visit us, the more this stuff just spreads out,” Sessions said.
Galveston Mayor Craig Brown and his wife, Angela, lease Seeding Galveston the property for $1 a year, Berger said.
About 18 percent of the Galveston County population is classified as food-insecure, according to the nonprofit Feeding Texas. Berger and Sessions remain committed to doing everything to keep that number down. As of a few weeks back, they nearly had reached their goal of sponsoring 100 kitchen gardens at homes across the island. Besides their longstanding partnerships with the University of Texas Medical Branch, Streetscape Ministries and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, among others, they recently began working with local recycling company Keepin’ It Green and the Little Red Box grocery on 41st Street.
It’s all part of Berger and Sessions’ mission to spread the gospel of locally sourced food and sustainable urban agriculture.
“We’ve united a community, and we’ve developed a culture of people demanding island-grown food and producing island-grown food,” Sessions said. “Talking about it is an important part of the new culture, we think.”
Stay up to date on Seeding Galveston’s activities, including their latest farm-stand offerings, by signing up for Debbie Berger’s weekly email newsletter at seedinggalveston.org.