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Urban Gardens

New gardens aim to bring more flavorful produce to top Houston restaurants — and the city's food deserts

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8 Coltivare restaurant Houston January 2014
Planted Houston aims to bring gardens like this one at Coltivare to Houston's food deserts.  Photo by Eric Sandler
Planted Edible Earth garden
Edible Earth Resources builds elaborate, food-producing home gardens, which they want to expand with Planted.  Photo courtesy of Planted
Food deserts with garden plots
If Planted is fully funded, the green areas will be served by a new network of gardens.  Photo courtesy of Planted
Planted Houston kickoff party
Attendees at the kickoff party included Edible Earth customer William Burch, left, as well as chefs like Erin Smith, Philippe Gaston and Sharon Gofreed, who will be Planted customers.  Photo courtesy of Planted
Planted Houston kickoff party
Planted's nutrient-dense produce appeals to chefs like German Mosquera, who recently opened a juice bar.  Photo courtesy of Planted
Planted Edible Earth garden Coltivare carrots
Carrots grown at Coltivare's garden.  Photo courtesy of Planted
8 Coltivare restaurant Houston January 2014
Planted Edible Earth garden
Food deserts with garden plots
Planted Houston kickoff party
Planted Houston kickoff party
Planted Edible Earth garden
Planted Edible Earth garden Coltivare carrots

Food deserts — low income neighbors without ready access to fresh food at grocery stores — are a sad reality throughout Houston. Recently, the City of Houston partnered with Pyburns Farm Fresh Foods to combat a desert in the South Union neighborhood by providing loan guarantees to establish a high-end grocery store.

Now, a new campaign aims to broaden the fight with a new network of gardens. 

Known as Planted: Houston, the effort aims to establish a citywide network of urban gardens on city-owned land. Led by Edible Earth Resources, a company that has designed food-producing gardens for restaurants like Coltivare as well as private individuals, Planted has started an Indiegogo campaign to raise at least $35,000 by the end of September to establish new gardens in low income neighborhoods.

 "The more flavor a produce has the more nutrients . . . It's a pretty significant movement in the cancer community." 

"With Edible Earth we’ve doing food production systems in people’s yards. This will be a more commercial scale," gardener Scott Snodgrass tells CultureMap. The $35,000 goal will allow Planted to cultivate approximately one acre. Every additional $35,000 raised will be put towards the next series of plots. Restaurants, who will be the projects primary customers, are offering rewards like a Bloody Mary brunch at Beaver's for people who contribute $75 and dinner prepared by Adam Dorris of newly opened Pax Americana at the $275 level.

Restaurants are eager to support the project for a number of reasons. First, Planted intends to grow produce with high nutrient density.

"It was an easy, easy sell. I think that’s why they want to support us," Snodgrass says. "There’s a huge difference in produce from different farms and what their nutrients are. The more flavor a produce has the more nutrients . . . It's a pretty significant movement in the cancer community."

In addition to more flavorful produce, Planted also hopes to offer restaurants a more consistent supply than some of the farms they currently buy from. "The chefs understand we have different seasons. What they don’t understand is why a farmer is out of a certain crop when he shouldn’t be," Snodgrass explains. 

Asked about his decision to enlist Planted to grow specific vegetables for his restaurant, Oxheart chef Justin Yu says, "I'm just trying to be the best I can be, and I'm gonna be out here every day working hard at that."

City of Houston Steps In

The City of Houston is supporting the project in order to further its goal of fighting food deserts. In exchange for being about to lease the land for $1 per year, Planted has agreed to donate 10 percent of all food grown to the neighborhood where the garden is. Additionally, Snodgrass says they plan to work with convenience stores in the area to sell produce to neighborhood residents at reduced rates. Area residents will also be able to work on the farms to earn produce. 

"We want to give access to people to good food — not just people who can afford it at a farmers market," Snodgrass adds.

While the project's initial focus is on selling produce to restaurants, a subscription service for individuals will further enhance its mission with a plan that mimics Toms Shoes. "If a person purchases a subscription from us, they’ll get food every week. We’ll match that and donate the same amount of food every week to a family in need," Snodgrass says.

Want to be one of the first subscribers? A 10-week, fall season subscription requires a donation of $950 for 10 to 25 pounds of produce per week. A year-long subscription requires a $3,500 donation. 

As for why anyone would donate to a for profit business, Snodgrass cites the ethos of social entrepreneurship.

"We knew going into it that we were asking people to give us money to start a business," he says. "We know that’s unusual. We’ve tried to design a business where people who want to support it by purchasing things can know that a portion of the money they spend with us is going to a social need."

To contribute at a slightly lower level, follow Planted on Twitter. They're rolling out a series of fundraising events at places like Beaver's, Coltivare and Lillo and Ella where a portion of proceeds from drink sales will go towards the goal.  

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