Growing Tasty and Healthy Food

by Mike Serant

Only with Organics can we grow the best tasting and healthiest food possible. The Law of Nutrition states; ‘When any organism is fed the highest nutrition possible, that organism will hit it’s optimum potential and have the least amount of problems’. This is true be it plant, animal or human. 

We can change all that by ‘Going Organic’. And, by simply following Natural Law we get excellent harvests and delicious foods that are safe. Organics programs are easier than going chemical and we feel much better about them. There is a science called Biophlage that tracks the DNA connection between plants and humans. Quite amazing to know that we are related to plants and when we take care of our plants they take care of us. A wonderful book that helps to explain this is ‘Your Brain on Nature’ by Dr. Eva Selhub. Dr. Selhub will be coming to Houston via OHBA in January 2019. 

It is important to note that all chemical fertilizers provide poor nutrition to plants and hurt soil health. Soil health and plant health are directly tied together. We want a fertilizer that improves both. Also recognize that chemical fertilizers only provide up to 7 minerals, but plants need at least 52 to be healthy and the human body has 79 elements in it. When we feed plants only 7 elements, there is a tremendous disconnect with what is required for good health.  

Remember, ‘we are what our plants eat’. When plants are grown with chemicals, malnourishment sets in and the plants become susceptible to pest insects and diseases. The chemical industry answer to this is to spray poisons on the plants. That poison doesn’t go away and when we, as humans, eat malnourished foods that have poisons sprayed on them, we too, get sick. Another great note for Organics is that when plants get a full load of minerals their flavonoid metabolites are enhanced, and flavonoids are another way or saying flavor. That’s why well grown Organic foods always test better.

A simple, non-fail Organic food growing program is as follows –

·      Start with a well drain planting area with composted top soil

·      Add 4 lb of a quality Organic fertilizer per 100 sq ft mixed 1’’ – 3” into the soil. Re-apply every 3 months

·      Plant transplants or sow seeds as season dictates

·      Water the plants or seeds in with a liquid fish + seaweed combo

·      Mulch the area with aged native mulch

·      Spray the plants every 2 – 4 weeks with a fish + seaweed combo

Urban Harvest does a magnificent job of helping us all to be healthier. From their planting guides, to their classes, to their Farmers Market to their 100 + community gardens, Urban Harvest makes life better. As society we are only as strong as our weakest link and we want all humans to be healthy; thriving on a dynamic planet.

Mike Serant has supported Urban Harvest since 1996; is co-founder of OHBA, www.ohbaonline.org, a 501(c)3 Organic education provider; and since 1988, the manufacture of MicroLife Organic Fertilizers, www.microlifefertilizer.com.

Urban Harvest Celebrates 15 Years of Youth Education in School Gardens!

This fall Urban Harvest is celebrating 15 years of teaching in school gardens! That’s a decade and a half of outdoor play and learning, fresh fruits and vegetables, and abundant and productive greenspaces. With your continued support, we are adapting to meet the needs of students and educators in the Houston area and beyond by teaching children in school, after school, and by training educators through accredited professional development workshops. Celebrate this important milestone with us by digging in at one of our Dig It Days this fall held at school gardens across Houston. See our Events page for more info.

Since 2003 Urban Harvest has provided hands-on garden education for Houston area students, turning school gardens into Outdoor Classrooms where children get to experience in the garden what they learn in the classroom. This program started with just three schools, Hartsfield Elementary, Peck Elementary, and MacArthur Elementary (now combined with Peck) and 180 students, and has since grown to reach over 50 schools in the past 15 years, teaching approximately 5,000 students annually. Along the way we saw school gardens revolutionize the way Houston area students think about their education, their environment and their food. When school gardens are aligned with classroom curriculum, they enhance a child’s learning of core subjects, like science, math, and language arts because students learn through hands-on activities, known as experiential learning. In the garden children watch as seedlings become plants, flowers and fruit and as a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly. Numerous studies have also shown that children will try new fruits and vegetables, eat healthier and are more active when in school garden programs.

Lakeisha Ogbor is a science teacher at Peck Elementary and uses the garden in her teaching. Through their active production of fruits and vegetables, the students learn to really care about something. According to Ogbor:

Most of them have never seen how plants and fruits and vegetables actually start out from seeds and grow. So they get to plant the seed, see their harvest and actually experience the cycles that it goes through. And then we can take that back into the classroom so that they can see life cycles, they can see actual ecosystems and how the plants and animals interact.

Urban Harvest garden educators use garden activities to make real-life topics such as science, ecology and healthy eating directly relevant to choices that students make daily. Cheryl Jones is the Magnet Coordinator at Gregory Lincoln Education Center. She sees that the garden program is creating kids who will choose wisely what they eat: “It doesn’t come from a grocery store, it’s not in a package, it’s not from a convenience store. It came from somebody putting a lot of love, attention and care into raising this product…We are creating that culture. The garden means a lot to us. It means a lot to the community, as well as to the kids and the school.”

Over the years, Urban Harvest has created innovative programming to complement its school gardens, including our annual Kids Market Day and the Edible Academy workshop. Every spring, students from school gardens throughout the city are invited to sell their produce and more at the Kids Market Day held at Gregory-Lincoln Education Center. This farmers market, run entirely by kids, provides students with a hands-on experience of running a business. Students are responsible for harvesting their produce, setting the prices, creating marketing materials and handling transactions with buyers. All proceeds from the market sales are sown back into the school gardens and culinary programs to promote experiential learning opportunities for students.  

Responding to the growing needs and interest in school garden education, Urban Harvest launched the Edible Academy. This accredited professional development workshop is held at Gregory Lincoln Education Center for three days during the month of June. Here, educators learn how to use their school garden as an outdoor classroom. One recent attendee shared her interest in edible education and why she signed up for the academy this year: “Everybody eats. We can all bring something (literally and metaphorically) to the table, and shared experiences are what build communities.” To date, more than 250 educators have participated in the Edible Academy from throughout the Gulf Coast region, including as far away as Louisiana!

Thank you again to our donors, volunteers, and supporters who make school gardens, youth education, and professional development possible here in Houston and beyond. Your support enables us to create innovative programing like school gardens, Dig It Day volunteer events, the Kids Market, and the Edible Academy. Here’s to the next 15 years of garden education in schools!

URBAN HARVEST’S SATURDAY FARMERS MARKET MOVES TO NEW LOCATION

Move will allow for larger footprint for market that has served as launching pad for area businesses since 2004

HOUSTON, TX (September 6, 2018) - Since 2004, the Urban Harvest Saturday Farmers Market has provided a year-round sales outlet for small, local farms and businesses. On Saturday, September 22, the Urban Harvest Saturday Farmers Market will open at its new location, St. John’s School (3401 Westheimer), in the lot located at the corner of Buffalo Speedway and Westheimer. “Our new strategic plan focuses on expanding farmers market outreach and programs,” said Janna Roberson, Urban Harvest’s Executive Director. “The new location allows us to offer expanded programs, products and events, ultimately connecting our farmers to clients and creating a dependable economic source of support to local farms.” With the new location, Urban Harvest’s Farmers Market footprint will grow 50%, add 600 parking spaces, and allow for increased programming.

For the past 15 years, the Urban Harvest Saturday Farmers Market – often called the Eastside Farmers Market – had made its home in the parking lot adjacent to Kirby Ice House on Eastside Street, near Richmond Ave. The lot’s owner, The Morgan Group, leased the lot to the organization recognizing the impact a market can have on the surrounding community. “We have enjoyed being a partner with Urban Harvest as they’ve grown the Saturday market into the largest producers-only farmers market in the city,” said Philip Morgan, Senior Vice President, Development of The Morgan Group. “We recognize that with success also comes growth, and wish them the best as they take the market to the next level at their new location.”

Annually, the Urban Harvest Saturday Farmers Market generates an economic impact of over $2.9 million for Houston’s local economy and food system. All vendors are within 180 miles of Houston, and 1-in-5 derive over 50% of their income from sales at the market.

Stacie and Garrett Gundermann joined the market in 2009, selling fresh produce from their family farm, Gundermann Acres. From 2009-2017, their farm grew from 90 acres and 2 employees to 500 acres and 20 employees. In the weeks preceding Hurricane Harvey, the Gundermanns had managed to harvest the majority of their sweet potato crops, allowing them to maintain a presence at the Saturday Farmers Market even after their farm took on 20 inches of flood water, forcing them to lose nearly 400 acres of crops. A year later, while the farm is not back to 100% yet, the Gundermanns never miss a market 

The Saturday Famers Market has also become a local resource for some of Houston’s top chefs to procure fruits and vegetables for their restaurants. Chris Shepherd, winner of the 2014 James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef: Southwest and chef/owner of Underbelly Hospitality, can be seen most Saturdays shopping both for his restaurants and his own home. “The Urban Harvest Farmers Market is like the town square,” said Shepherd. “It’s a place where farmers, vendors, shoppers and families meet up every week. Supporting local farmers is a huge part of how I cook and run my restaurants, and it’s important for Houstonians to have a place to meet the people who are growing their food, raising chickens or growing the flowers they put on their table. I’ve said this for a long time – no farm, no food. I should probably rephrase it a little: no farmers, no farm, no food.”

2017 James Beard Foundation Best Chef: Southwest Award winner Hugo Ortega is another market regular. “My wife Tracy -- a St. John’s Graduate -- and I have been supporters of the Urban Harvest Farmers Market since the beginning, when it was called the Bayou City Farmers Market,” says Ortega. “In addition to supporting area farmers and producers and getting great local products, it’s fun to spend a Saturday morning wandering the market with a coffee in my hand, a large bag for collecting my discoveries, finding new vendors and speaking with other chefs and Houstonians. It is a true community feeling, and I love that.”

In addition, the market has also been an incubator for local businesses throughout the greater Houston area. August Vega’s company MALK launched in 2014 with its line of nut milks at the Saturday Farmers Market. Today MALK can be found in stores nationwide. “Urban Harvest is where it all started for MALK,” said Vega, who runs the company with brother Justin Brodnax and cousin Joel Canada. “We consistently sold out of our products, and it really validated all of the hard work and effort our team was putting into the idea of making the cleanest nut milks on the market.”

The Urban Harvest Saturday Farmers Market will maintain its current hours of 8 a.m. – Noon, with free parking for patrons. The following is the schedule of the upcoming Urban Harvest Farmers Market events:

ASK THE EXPERT
October 13, November 10, December 15
8am – Noon
Get all of your gardening questions answered by experts. Our team boasts over 50 years of gardening experience combined.

FALL FESTIVAL
Saturday, October 27
8am – Noon
Celebrate Fall with activities for all ages! A local chef will create a holiday recipe with fresh produce from the market during the Urban Harvest Farmers Market Chef Series presented by Kroger. Recipe cards will be available to take home and create the dish for your holiday festivities. Youth activities including pumpkin and squash painting will entertain our youngest patrons.

FARMERS MARKET TOUR
Saturday, November 17
8am – Noon
Get to know the vendors! This special tour day will feature market tours on the half-hour giving you a chance to learn about our farmers and vendors, in addition to what’s in season.

CITRUS FEST
Saturday, December 15
8am – Noon
Learn about and sample many varieties of citrus that can be grown in Houston. Dr. Bob Randall will be on-hand to answer questions about best practices for growing citrus – either in a yard or a container.

The Urban Harvest City Hall Farmers Market will reopen on Wednesday, September 12th and take place every Wednesday from 11am – 1:30pm around City Hall throughout the fall.

For more information on the Urban Harvest Saturday Farmers Market or to learn more about the organization, visit www.urbanharvest.org or call 713.880.5540.

About Urban Harvest:
Founded in 1994, Urban Harvest’s mission is to cultivate thriving communities through gardening and access to healthy, local food. Urban Harvest achieves this mission through three core programs: Youth and Adult Education, Community Gardens and Farmers Markets.

Third Annual Edible Academy Grows Garden Knowledge

The 2018 Edible Academy saw three days of garden education, culinary ideas for the classroom, and tours of various edible gardens throughout Houston. Over 30 area educators will take back to their schools and students fresh ideas on incorporating their school gardens into all learning areas.

 

On day one, participants experienced hands-on learning about composting, propagation, and planting in Gregory Lincoln’s Cultivated Classroom garden. Day two saw educators harvesting from the garden and preparing easy, seasonal recipes to try back at school. The last day of the Edible Academy, participants visited the Centennial Vegetable Garden (great place for field trips), and 3 gardens in underserved neighborhoods: Peck ES, Blackshear ES, and the Third Ward Multi-Service Center.

 

Tykisha Murphy, a participant in this year’s Edible Academy said, “I [decided to take this workshop because I] wanted to learn how to engage children effectively... Most children aren’t very connected with their environment. They don’t know where their food comes from. They don’t reallyknow anything about outside life. They know TV and video games, but when you show them where their food comes from, they want to learn how to do it and cook it, and then they want to show it to their family and friends.  And it’s just a cycle that goes crazy.”  Photos by Pilar Hernandez.

 

   
 
 
 

 

 

Adopt-A-Garden Kicks Off at Key Gardens

This April and May, Urban Harvest kicked off its Adopt-a-Garden Program with six volunteer days across Houston. The Adopt-a-Garden Program connects gardens in underserved areas with community partners to support gardens, build relationships in their neighborhood, and empower local growers and community members to change and improve their food system.

 

Adopt-A-Garden focuses on six gardens in: Acres Homes (Wesley Elementary), Third Ward (Alabama Garden), Near Northside (Avenue Place Community Garden), Gulfton (Christian Community Service Center), and Sunnyside (The Happy Place Garden & Harry Holmes Community Garden).  

 

Each garden provides fresh produce for their communities, many of which are located in food deserts: communities that lack access to healthy food. As a city, Houston far exceeds the national average of these food deserts. While an average 7.4% of Americans live in food deserts, an astonishing 20% of Houstonians – more than two-and-a-half times more than the national average – live in these areas.

 

At the Adopt-a-Garden volunteer days, over 85 volunteers, corporate partners, and community garden members joined forces to plant fruit trees, spread compost, and clean garden beds. These projects provided 36 yards of compost to five gardens (covering and building soil health in over 18,250 ft.2 of garden beds); 2 picnic benches; 26 fruit trees; and a vast and innumerable amount of gardening support in the form of weeding, pruning, and planting. In upcoming volunteer days, participating gardens and partners will engage in a wide variety of projects, including mulching, building shade structures, laying granite in pathways, and refurbishing garden sheds and shared spaces.

 

Save the date to come out to a garden at our next Adopt-a-Garden volunteer day on September 15! To sign up to volunteer, click here.

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