Gexa Energy Learning Center

Cultivating Local Crops—and Our Communities

It’s been two years since the launch of our Community Heroes grant program. And in that time, we’ve had the pleasure of supporting eight – and counting – local organizations in their quest to empower and uplift the communities where they live and work.

For a deeper look into who these organizations are, this blog series will focus on the inspirational stories behind some of the 2018 and 2019 Gexa Community Heroes grant winners and their invaluable contributions in and around the local community.

As you grow up, you learn the practical skills that help you make your way in life. Like changing a tire. Or balancing a checkbook. Or cooking dinner without the help of a microwave.

But have you ever tried growing your own food?

Urban Harvest is a nonprofit organization that enables people to do just that – using education and community gardens to help Houston residents flourish. “We cultivate communities through access to thriving, local food,” Communications and Development Manager Amy Hernandez says.

Founded in 1994, Urban Harvest started as the brainchild of Dr. Bob Randall, who popularized community-garden culture in Houston’s Fourth Ward. “His sole purpose was this: We can help combat hunger and teach people to eat healthier if we teach them to grow their own food,” Amy says. “Especially in lower-income neighborhoods.”

Over time, Urban Harvest has added its staple educational programs: one for adults and one for youth. The former teaches adults to grow their own food organically and locally, while the latter focuses on lesson-plan-based learning for thousands of students in the area.

“We’re actually meeting TEKS requirements,” Amy says. “Science. Math. Storytelling. We’re addressing core curricula through the garden. Things that kids are able to take back into the classroom.” The lessons not only show students how to properly handle themselves in the garden but also impart valuable knowledge.

Urban Harvest also supports farmers outside the community gardens. “We host a farmers’ market program,” Amy says. “Every Saturday, rain or shine.” The market brings in more than 60 vendors – all from within 180 miles of Houston. Everyone who participates in the local farmers’ market must sell only foods with ingredients that are at least 51% locally sourced. That’s not to mention Urban Harvest’s annual Sunday Supper, a fundraiser that unites notable Houston chefs and local farmers to put support toward the community’s gardens. “We’ve had some James Beard award-winning chefs participate,” Amy adds, “including Chris Shepherd and Justin Yu.”

When the director of Urban Harvest’s farmers’ market received an email from Gexa about the Community Heroes program, he responded immediately. “We put those funds toward our general programming,” Amy shares. “It was a huge help to our community gardens program, supporting our education needs and our school gardens.”

She was excited for the opportunity to put more resources into the program – and to be able to launch the organization’s Double Up Food Bucks program, which will allow SNAP recipients in Texas to get a dollar-for-dollar match, up to $40, toward food when they purchase from Urban Harvest. “It’s a big deal for us,” Amy says. “Not only will that allow them to get more fresh, healthy food for their money, but local farmers will have help gaining new customers and selling more product.”

To learn more about Urban Harvest, visit http://urbanharvest.org/