The Community Farm Kitchen aims to break down barriers to food security by making more accessible the produce grown on urban farms for the nearby residents. This will be achieved in partnership with two Plant It Forward Farms (PIF), through the hosting of farm dinners over the course of nine months, which bring together farmers, local area chefs, and neighborhood residents across the largest network of urban farms in Houston. Tackling the food inequity in the communities, the project is as much about bridging cultural divides as it is about creating greater access to local produce.
Food grown on urban farms rarely stays in the neighborhood or the community where it is produced. Often, land available to urban farmers is in lower income neighborhoods whose residents are unable to afford the higher-than-supermarket prices or unaware of the local produce available to them. For instance, PIF Westbury farm, which borders food deserts and is surrounded by an apartment complex with over 900 units, seldom has neighbors buy directly from the farms. With our project, we hope that food events staged across the Westbury and Fondren farm sites in the PIF network will serve to not only make neighbors feel welcome on the farms, but encourage residents to utilize and shape what produce is grown in their own backyards. The physical tables and demonstration areas built will facilitate coming together over a meal, and illustrated tablecloths help prompt dialogues about shared food histories and traditions, but it is the exchange between chefs, farmers, and neighbors at the core of the project. The events also bring attention to the food stands located on site, and funds from the grant will be used to pay for the licensing fee that allows PIF farmers to accept SNAP payments for the year.
In neighborhoods that are food insecure or where the quality of food available to residents is poor, neighbors should be able to access the produce grown on nearby urban farms. The farms and its produce however are often seen as resources meant for someone else. Awareness is one identified barrier, as PIF farmers operate farm stands open to anyone, but are not well promoted. Through outreach events to advertise the dinners and stands, we will gather feedback and encourage neighbors to help directly plan the events.
PIF farmers are resettled refugees with a range of farming experience prior to adjusting to a new climate, language, and land. They have also had to adapt their farming practice to better fit local, cultural tastes. Over the years though, they have introduced Houstonians to the crops of their home countries, and the farmers in collaboration with local chefs can bolster these food heritages. This means of resilience and food sovereignty can expand to include the communities around the farms, as neighbors learn to connect to their own food histories and regain control and have influence over what they eat.
We believe that food can be a means to bridge cultural barriers of project participants: African refugee farmers, chefs with varied backgrounds, and incredibly diverse surrounding neighborhoods that include large hispanic populations as well as African American ones. Chefs include long-time Westbury resident and homecook Maria VerMilyea who has worked in vegan kitchens for over 15 years. She will highlight the food from the San Luis Potosí region of Mexico where she is from: using items like squash blossoms available in late summertime to prepare a dish, we can coordinate with the farmers now to plant the calabaza squash desired. Local chefs and cooks will be compensated for their time in sharing their knowledge, food stories, and culinary skills.