Local crusaders against poverty want to use your backyard to fight hunger.
North Texas allies for the homeless want to help struggling families who are living in food deserts — urban areas where it can be hard to find affordable, healthy fresh food because of a lack of nearby grocery stores. The solution may involve getting more people to grow leafy greens and vegetables in urban and suburban gardens across Tarrant County.
A new nonprofit called The Garden Network of Tarrant County aims to feed more hungry families by teaching them to grow healthy food in backyards or other available urban green spaces.
“The ultimate goal is to put backyard gardens into the backyards of food insecure people,” said Neale Mansfield, executive director of the network. “These are folks who don’t have the means to drive far away to buy fresh produce."
The network is looking for food allies willing to help by planting vegetables to donate to pantries. These budding philanthropists can help by bringing backyard gardens to low-income families.
For $190, a person can purchase a backyard raised garden with the commitment to give a portion of the harvests to a local food pantry. Another way to support the program is to buy a raised garden bed for a low-income family for $190. A third option allows supporters to buy two gardens for $350 - one for themselves and one for a low-income family.
The garden boxes are installed on site of the homeowner, Mansfield said. The planting space will be 8 inches tall, 4 feet wide and 12 feet long, or 48 square feet, he said. They are built with cinder blocks.
On Saturday, the network will officially launch the nonprofit by showcasing six urban gardening programs that will be part of the program. Beds for gardens will be built at several sites, including the Salvation Army, Presbyterian Night Shelter and The Villages at Samaritan House in Fort Worth.
"All of these projects represent precisely what the network seeks to accomplish. That is, empowering individuals to feed themselves, feed others, get training, gain employment, earn income and more," Mansfield said.
Flora Brewer, owner of the Palm Tree Apartments on Race Street in Fort Worth, said she is working with the network to turn a vacant single-family lot into a community garden for low-income residents living at the Palm Tree Apartments. The project also aims to build community spirit by enlisting the help of nearby working-class families.
Brewer said the 27 residents living in 24 units struggle to put food on their tables. Residents are "very, very low income," she said, adding that many make less than $700 a month and don't qualify for food stamps.
Brewer said the garden site currently has four beds, but will soon add 12 more with the garden network's help. The hope is that residents will grow food for their consumption and also to sell.
The garden network is also working with residents at The Villages at Samaritan House on Hemphill Street to help them grow vegetables from raised beds. That project, similar to the one at the Palm Tree Apartments, will help bring more green food options to residents.
Norbert White, president and CEO of the Samaritan House, said the residents are working with master gardeners to learn how to plan, compost and harvest. White said these skills are valuable for the residents, who can share their new skills with others.
“We can spread this gospel and this discipline to others and they will benefit from that,” White said.
The Community Enrichment Center in North Richland Hills is among area nonprofits that are part of the network. That charity has a garden that provides fresh foods to the on-site pantry.
Volunteer Laurie Evans and her children often help harvest food for the nonprofit. She said those volunteer hours benefit the community while teaching her children to help others. She said she expects the new network to offer more of these volunteer opportunities for her four children.
"They get off the television and off the tablets and they are actually doing something to help their neighbors,” Evans said.