HOUSTON - There's nothing like the feeling of eating good food, and knowing exactly where it came from. Made by the hands of children, students, recovering patients and community members--tomatoes, carrots, eggplants, okra and much more are part of a local program teaches organic gardening to the community. Through, Urban Harvest, organic gardening becomes not only a source of energy for those in need, but also a hands-on teaching method to spread knowledge about gardening, sustainability and nutrition.
Urban Harvest is a non profit organization founded in 1994. The organization supports more than 100 community gardens all with different purposes. Neighborhood and allotment gardens that provide an opportunity for neighbors to grow food and serve as an oasis for the neighborhood, donation gardens provide food for the hungry, therapy gardens provide emotional health and healing, market gardens which allow low-income residents and entrepreneurs earn some income, and school gardens.
"Urban Harvest is an organization that promotes sustainability and healthy communities through organic gardening," said Carol Burton, director of youth education.
KPRC2's Rose-Ann Aragon is spending the day at Urban Harvest's affiliate and main garden at Gregory-Lincoln Education Center, in the historic 4th Ward, where the program teaches students in a school that is 40 percent homeless. The food these students and volunteers grow helps to feed students nutritious food at a school where 100 percent of students qualify for food stamps.
"This school garden is called the 'Cultivated Classroom,' and we've built a collaborative, rich ecology of community partners, and so the overall goal is to cultivate the ground with community partners, gardening so that kids and their teachers can experience nature," said Burton.
Cultivated Classroom Program Director, Kellie Karavias, brings more than a hundred students to the garden every week. Students help grow tomatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, eggplants, herbs, watermelon and more.
"We grow our food organically. The kids will come out here. They will pick out stuff and they will try and eat," said Karavias. "We have an orchard in the back so they're eating fresh peaches."
She said many of the children she teaches don't have access to good quality food. For some of her students, this is their only opportunity to grow anything and eat something natural.
"I like helping out with plants because that's healthy, and it's good for our minds because it helps us to be healthy and its good for kids," said fifth-grader Ilaria Mutavazi.
She said she tends to eat junk outside of school, except when she started harvesting at the Cultivated Classroom.
"The tomatoes...they're good," said Ilaria with a smile.
She's not the only one.
Excited to explore Urban Harvest at the Gregory-Lincoln Education Ctr @KPRC2 The program uses organic gardening to teach & feed community pic.twitter.com/ruiOPP7ZZY — Rose-Ann Aragon KPRC (@RAragonKPRC2) June 6, 2017
"I love tomatoes, and [they're] very good," said fifth-grader, "You think of when kids are out on the streets they don't have anything, but they can come here... and kids all around the world can get their vegetables and help harvest."
Volunteers can help tend to the garden every Thursday in June and July from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. at the Gergory-Lincoln Education Center Urban Harvest affiliate garden. Burton said Urban Harvest is a program that tries to build communities.
"We are in historic 4th Ward...which has been rebranded as Midtown...Midtown has all these luxurious high-rises, but at the back of the school we still have the Allen Parkway projects, so for a lot of kids that's their home," said Karavias.
"We also serve a lot of women's shelters and Starved Hope and the Salvation Army, so we have a lot of kids that have really, really scary home life situations where they're fleeing from something, so coming to school is a sanctuary. Having a garden is a peaceful place for them to come in and feel like they're reconnected to the earth, reconnected to humanity and to each other."
Fifth-grader Eric Lee said he never gets this chance to garden at home, but he's learned a couple more life lessons.
"Work hard, practice, do your best," said Eric as he was pulling out weeds. "Do whatever you can to make the garden healthy."
It is a sense of ownership that Urban Harvest and the Cultivated Classroom leaders say they want to share with children of all ages.
"Sixth, seventh, and eighth-graders come out as an elective, so if they take culinary arts then they're in the garden every Friday. We're there from 8 a.m.- 3:30 p.m. so we have classes rotating in and out. If you're pre-K-fifth grade then you come in a rotation," said Karavias.
Her culinary students will pick and then prepare food from the garden as part of their curriculum.
"[It's] very delicious!" said fifth-grader Brianna Cox. "Because it's fresh."
Also part of the Cultivated Classroom is a chicken coop. There students feed the chickens old tomatoes from the garden and even collect eggs.
Kids learning where their food comes from! I'm going to have to volunteer to take care of this garden ... @KPRC2 Full digital story soon pic.twitter.com/3vV1gcKbXn — Rose-Ann Aragon KPRC (@RAragonKPRC2) June 6, 2017
Organizers hope to expand the garden by raising funds to add a rotunda, an outdoor kitchen and to extend the garden to produce enough to feed the whole school.
Urban Harvest uses the Cultivated Classroom to train teachers in their program. However, the program also has affiliate gardens all over Houston.
Urban Harvest has a Farmer's Market every Saturday from 8 a.m.-noon. It also has a Farmer's Market every Wednesday outside Houston City Hall from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Volunteers can help tend to the garden every Thursday in June and July from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. at the Gergory-Lincoln Education Center Urban Harvest affiliate garden.
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