AUSTIN (KXAN) — Steven Johnson is the garden coordinator with Green Corn Project, a nonprofit dedicated to helping Texans attain access to nutritious, affordable food while also providing an education along the way.
“Our mission is to help low income communities, individuals and communities at large, grow food for themselves that don’t have access to that food,” Johnson said.
Their way of doing this is by planting gardening beds. Their planned and scheduled events are called “dig-ins”. These events are made possible with the help of participating volunteers taking a few hours out of their day during the weekends in the spring and fall to help plant on-site of a recipient in need.
“Not everybody can afford to buy it. Not everybody has the knowledge on how to grow food for themselves. So we provide that financial, the equipment needed for gardens, as well as the education for people to grow their own healthy food,” Johnson said.
Johnson added that the education for gardening is not only attained by the recipient that’s receiving the garden, but it’s also given to their volunteers, who gain the knowledge of how to start their own garden if they wanted to.
Back in 2005, the Green Corn Project began installing gardens at elementary schools in underserved areas. Teachers and administrators get to use the gardens for educational purposes while also sending vegetables and other foods home with the children.
Sheila Pharis, who is one of the many garden recipients, is the Executive Director of Mariposa Family Learning Center in East Austin. She says the garden serves a multitude of educational purposes outside of just the garden and plants.
“This is where we investigate bugs and learn about what the bugs eat… the butterflies, the bees, the ladybugs, and for the kids, it just is an immediate connection to nature and to lifecycles,” Pharis says.
She describes the garden as a daily science exploration for them that has even become their playground where they can continuously learn and have fun at the same time.
“We also had spinach, we had lettuce, we had potatoes that we grew, and onions and they just went nuts for that. They just thought digging for potatoes was like the best time ever. That was a good time,” Pharis said.
Her students also learn about sustainability and reusing captured water from their rain barrels. They learn the responsibility of watering each plant and what plant needs how much water. Their education even overlaps into weather and climate.
“Some plants need more more hours of sunlight than others… how many hours of sunlight are we getting this season versus that season? And just in general, like what, what what do we need outside? Do we need our jackets? You know, do we need shoes? Do we need a hat? So weather and preschool learning, you know are very much intertwined,” Pharis explained.
These gardens and “dig-in” events are not just a one-and-done type of deal. They are graciously gifted and maintained for years to come.
Johnson says they return to recipients’ gardens every single season until recipients feel comfortable enough with taking care of the garden themselves.
You can apply for a garden or to participate in their volunteer program here.