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Farming As A Mission

A real farm in the middle of Montrose: New organic farms are changing Houston produce

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Slideshow
1 Plant it Forward Farm Dinner November 2013
Believe it or not, this urban farm is located next to the University of St. Thomas.  Photo by Eric Sandler
10 Plant it Forward Farm Dinner November 2013
Congolese refugees turned farmers pose with their traineres, Ray Sher and Gary Edmondson Photo by Eric Sandler
4 Plant it Forward Farm Dinner November 2013 table setting
Tables set for the guests.  Photo by Eric Sandler
3 Plant it Forward Farm Dinner November 2013
Dylan Murray of Local Foods and Benjy's prepared the meal.  Photo by Eric Sandler
5 Plant it Forward Farm Dinner November 2013
The meal started with a variety of snacks.  Photo by Eric Sandler
6 Plant it Forward Farm Dinner November 2013
Brennan's chef Danny Trace and Tessa Fairey attended the meal.  Photo by Eric Sandler
8 Plant it Forward Farm Dinner November 2013
Vincent Huynh promised Coltivare is coming soon.  Photo by Eric Sandler
7 Plant it Forward Farm Dinner November 2013
Find these crops at the Urban Harvest markets.  Photo by Eric Sandler
1 Plant it Forward Farm Dinner November 2013
10 Plant it Forward Farm Dinner November 2013
4 Plant it Forward Farm Dinner November 2013 table setting
3 Plant it Forward Farm Dinner November 2013
5 Plant it Forward Farm Dinner November 2013
6 Plant it Forward Farm Dinner November 2013
8 Plant it Forward Farm Dinner November 2013
7 Plant it Forward Farm Dinner November 2013

As unlikely as the idea may seem for a crowded neighborhood in the middle of Houston, a non-profit has established a small urban farm in the middle of Montrose. On a plot of land leased to it by the University of St. Thomas for $1, local non-profit group Plant It Forward is teaching refugees the basics of organic farming. 

"Right now  most of our farmers are from the Congo," Colleen O'Donnell of Plant it Forward tells CultureMap. "They had to leave because of the civil war. So they get here and their skill set doesn’t really match up with the jobs available. We were trying to bring more produce to Houston and help them assimilate and share their talents with us."

 Despite a chill in the air, there's a warm feeling that infuses the area with good vibes. 

Although the land is under an acre, strolling along the rows and admiring the farmers' handiwork makes the area feel very far away from the city that surrounds it. Despite a chill in the air, there's a warm feeling that infuses the area with good vibes. Plant It Forward has partnered with St. Thomas environmental studies professor Damien Marie Savino, who brings her students to the farm.    

Gary Edmondson and Ray Sher train the farmers in organic techniques and guide them about when to plant and harvest. Edmondson tells CultureMap that he's been farming for more than 20 years. Right now, the farm grows kale, snow peas, spinach, beets and other crops that are sold to restaurants, at the Urban Harvest farmers market and via a farm share subscription (CSA) that will begin a new season of deliveries starting Nov. 17.

At a dinner on the farm Sunday night, Dylan Murray of Benjy's and Local Foods featured items grown from the farm with ingredients from other local producers. Guests included an array of local chefs known for using local produce, including Anita Jaisinghani (Indika, Pondicheri), Benjy Mason (Down House), Danny Trace (Brennan's) and Vincent Huynh (Coltivare). They feasted on roast pork, grilled shrimp and a variety of vegetables.

In a speech before the meal, Sher urged the chefs to request the produce they'd like to see the farm produce. That symbiotic relationship will help Plant It Forward grow beyond its two existing farms. O'Donnell says they'd like to have one in every neighborhood in Houston.

Up next? Westbury. 

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