Introducing Montrose’s First Farm Stand
About five years ago, Teresa O’Donnell, was flipping through the Houston Chronicle when she noticed a story detailing the trouble refugees in Houston were having finding jobs. O’Donnell,co-founder of Bridgeway Software, was pondering the best way to help out when she came across another story by one of the founders of Urban Harvest, a local nonprofit that encourages Houstonians of all backgrounds to grow and eat healthy food.
It was a lightbulb moment. “I called the resettlement agency I’d been working with, and asked if by chance any of the new arrivals had been farmers,” O’Donnell remembered. “The answer was, ‘They’re all farmers.’ I just got goosebumps. All the dots started connecting.”
Once she had the idea, O’Donnell moved quickly, acquiring an acre of land owned by Braeswood Church, and hiring a couple of gardeners from Urban Harvest to help train her inaugural group of 14 Congolese refugees. The idea was for the farm to be self-sustaining, with the farmers selling their produce to local restaurants and farmer’s markets. That first year, the farmers sold about $50,000 worth of food with just that one acre of land. “That proved to me that, yes, you could grow enough produce and sell it to help someone [make a living],” O’Donnell said. She decided to call her project Plant It Forward Farms. (You can watch O’Donnell’s TED talk about starting the company here.)
Three more “urban farms” followed, including one on the campus of the University of St. Thomas, at the corner of Yupon and Sul Ross. There, on a recent weekday, several farmers could be seen tending long rows of crops. “People are welcome to walk the paths and see what’s growing,” said Plant It Forward’s Daniella Lewis. Lewis manages the farm stand that Plant it Forward recently opened at the UST farm, where customers can buy produce harvested just feet away. The stand is currently open on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., with the official grand opening slated for April 2.
“Montrose is a wonderful neighborhood,” Lewis said. “One of the reasons we opened our first farm stand here is that there are all these people walking around on the weekends. The farm just adds another layer of vibrancy to the neighborhood—we’ve already had a bunch of repeat customers.” Because Houston has a year-round growing season, it’s the perfect laboratory for this experiment in urban farming. Right now the farmers are planting warm-weather crops like tomatoes, eggplants, corn, and squash.
Ultimately, O’Donnell wants to take the model she’s pioneering in Houston nationwide. “My vision is a farm in every neighborhood,” she said. “I think everybody is rethinking our food system—how they purchase food, how we take care of the environment, how we can eat healthier. With us, you can get food the same day it was picked, which is cool. And it tastes so much better.”
Plant It Forward Farm Stand, 1318 Sul Ross Street. plant-it-forward.org. Saturdays from 10–2.