This morning I went with six other members of the Gardening Committee of the Campus Environmental Club to help volunteer at a farm/youth development project called Urban Roots.
Urban Roots is amazing.
It is relatively young, I think it’s in its fourth year of operation now, but the program is becoming independent and self-sufficient much quicker than the founders expected.
During the summer and spring, Urban Roots employs thirty low-income high-school students who had to go through a selective application process. The farm employs the students full-time during the summer and part-time during the fall, and pays them fully and fairly. Urban Roots also teaches the students nutrition, money management, leaderships skills like public speaking, and of course–farming techniques.
It is the kind of program that makes you second-guess what the heck you did in high school.
Urban Roots sells 60% of their produce yield at farmer’s markets and to select restaurants, all for fair prices. The profits from their produce go to paying the students, paying off loans on the farm, and buying material and capital to keep the farm afloat.
The other 40% goes to hunger-relief organizations in Austin like Caritas, Meals on Wheels, and Habitat for Humanity. How frugal can you be?
There are four, full-time employees at Urban Roots, one of whom, Marysol, is the founder. She is amazing, charismatic, kind, and very good at farming efficiently.
Urban Roots has volunteer work-days Tuesdays and Thursdays, and occasionally on Saturdays, and during the “off-season” they depend on volunteer labor to keep their farm productive. That’s why we were there!
The turnout today was, for some inexplicable reason, one of the biggest turnouts any of the employees had ever seen. We accomplished a prodigious amount of harvesting, but even more summer-crop removal. I personally (we were split into groups) helped pull okra, eggplant, bell peppers, jalapeno and Serrano peppers, and tomatoes. I also weeded for an hour and had two amazing conversations while doing so.
Other groups pulled other crops, stacked wire-cages, harvested turnips (and serendipitously harvested cucumbers), washed and sorted turnips, pulled other things, and weeded other things.
This morning was an amazing day to help because the large amount of people left the volunteers scrambling to put us all to use, so I felt like we really helped.
They used “drip-line” to irrigate their plants.
The farm is four-acres total.
There were probably around forty people there to help this morning, and every person I talked to was friendly and in good spirits.
At the end of the day everyone said the thing they liked the most. A lot of people, who looked like they had indoor jobs, said they just enjoyed being outside. And that made me really happy.
I said my favorite part of the day was trying arugula, a plant I thought I didn’t like, but now really appreciate it. Arugula actually has its own taste, as opposed to other leafy vegetables like lettuce, that–in my opinion–are more bland and serve as vehicles for other flavors, or as filler.
Volunteers got to take whatever cucumbers, eggplants, squash, pumpkins, or turnips that they found on the ground that were good to eat.
I took home several cukes and a turnip. No one wanted to take that much because the profits from these vegetables go towards a better cause than our stomachs.
They offered us abundant free food, and no one took more than they needed. Imagine that.