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Remembering an Urban Harvest Founder

Terry Hershey, 1923-2017

We at Urban Harvest are immensely grateful to the contributions Terry Hershey made to our organization over the years, to turn a vision into a reality. Below, Dr. Bob Randall shares the impact Terry Hershey had on the success of Urban Harvest.

To read more about her incredible life, read her obituary on Legacy.com, in the Houston Chronicle, or read about her in David Todd and David Weisman’s book The Texas Legacy Project: Stories of Courage and Conservation (Texas A&M 2010)

"Terry Hershey accomplished so much in her life that I am always pleased when her role in founding Urban Harvest is mentioned. For Southeast Texas, it is literally difficult to find a single 20th century environmental organization or a significant piece of public land she didn’t improve in a major way. Her efforts for Urban Harvest were monumental. It is easy enough to spell out what she did, but a much more difficult task to characterize her role in early leadership.

"In 1989, her late husband Jake Hershey wrote an article in the Houston Chronicle arguing that too many inner city children were unaware of nature—plants, animals, earth, and land in general. At the time, I was heading the newly formed Interfaith Hunger Coalition Community Gardening Program. Since we were working on efforts to connect children with land in their neighborhoods, the VISTA Volunteer who worked for me and I put together a packet of information for Mr. Hershey. We got a reply back from the Jacob and Terese Hershey Foundation that the packet had been forwarded to Mrs. Hershey “who was much more involved with these issues.” There the matter rested until Terry Hershey ran into me maybe three years later at a Citizens Environmental Coalition Meeting and explained that after researching community gardens nationwide she was ready to lend her support. That was Terry—study carefully, then follow up with action.

"She was involved in many national, state, and local parks and wildlife organizations, and thought that community gardens, even if our first goal were to improve diet, would be an outstanding addition to many parks. Her principal thought was that park community gardens would bring adults together several times a week and build community across demographic barriers of age, language, education, and income.  Many parks missed adult visitors, especially elders. And this created generational gaps where children often had few informal land learning opportunities or good role models.

"To a former college professor like me with little non-profit or organization experience, Terry was a miracle.  After working on countless organizations for decades, she knew exactly what was needed to help things get to the next level. After meeting with my two part time staff and myself in our tiny Hunger Coalition cubicles, and viewing some of our gardens, she declared that the vision was excellent, but it needed much more funding. Terry and Jake had considerable wealth, but compared with environmental needs, if not a drop in the bucket, theirs was perhaps a cup in a bucket. What Terry knew was that lots of people have some spare cash and are willing to support good ideas attached to well-planned efforts and good results.

"One of her first ideas was to see if Wendy Kelsey would support the vision and possibly work for the effort. She introduced us. I showed Wendy our gardens and Wendy signed on to the project. Terry brought several potential funders to our offices, but the parent organization we worked for, Interfaith Ministries, moved in other directions. In May 1994, Wendy, Terry, and I –together with Suzy Fischer, Léonel Castillo, George McAfee Jr., Mark Cotham, and Ellen Mitchell founded Urban Harvest.

"Wendy, George, and I were the first staff, and Wendy during her seven years of employment was effectively Associate Executive Director. She did a long, long list of work at the highest level; logged in countless hours, and made the thing happen. Terry and Wendy together were in charge of funding the organization and deserve full credit for the existence of Urban Harvest beyond an idea. Without the meager salaries George, Wendy, and I accepted in the beginning, it never would of happened. And without Wendy and Terry relentlessly explaining to all who would listen why they should support us, none of what is today Urban Harvest could have happened.

"Among other things, an organization Terry founded, The Bayou Preservation Association, provided us free offices for 18 months from 1994-1995 and another organization she helped found, The Park People, became our fiscal agent. They vouched for our financial credibility in our first years until we could become, as planned, independent. Without their amazing help, there would be no Urban Harvest.

"I hope this gives you the picture. Because Terry had helped so many organizations, not just with money or ideas for funding-- but with good advice and thoughtful, helpful effort, she was a master at networking—organizing organizations to help each other. That is no doubt she did similar things for many more organizations.

"Over the years, I spent many days interacting with Terry and sometimes Jake. Terry was a voracious reader and as a philosophy major in college had a breathtaking understanding of a huge range of issues. She read a lot of science and spent a lot of time outdoors. At one point she introduced me to a book by a specialist in wild rivers and their mismanagement. I was surprised to find that parts of the book required knowledge of differential calculus.

"Terry loved what Urban Harvest does and we all loved Terry. The likes of Terry Hershey will not be seen again."