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Volunteers from churches and nonprofits gather to launch the Family Garden Initiative in Dallas: Desiree Espada

Volunteers from churches and nonprofits gather to launch the Family Garden Initiative in Dallas. Photos by Desiree Espada

For anyone who has ever longed for a fruitful (or veggie-ful) garden but lacks the green thumb for it, a product called GardenSoxx — compact kits containing ready-to-grow gardens in a four-foot mesh sock — is a potential fresh-produce dream realized.

GardenSoxx are a hit with home gardeners, chefs and commercial growers. But one Ohio-based nonprofit, Family Garden Initiative, saw in these user-friendly, unfussy garden tubes an opportunity to serve a larger purpose. FGI recently teamed up with the Dallas Coalition for Hunger Solutions (DCHS), and now the effort to help urban families grow their own healthy food is sprouting in backyards and community gardens in our neighborhood.

Early on a September morning, members of nine charities — including neighborhood churches Northlake Baptist, Episcopal Church of the Ascension, Lake Highlands United Methodist and Wilshire Baptist, to name a few — arrived at a Garland warehouse with pickup trucks and trailers, into which they loaded the tubes. They would spend the day delivering to a number of “food insecure” congregants who agreed to participate in the gardening experiment.

Despite the heavy involvement of faith-rooted organizations, this is not about proselytizing, but about addressing hunger, says Lake Highlands resident Dabney Dwyer, the community ministries director at Ascension and member of DCHS.

“It is not about evangelism. In a year, if all goes as we hope, each garden can produce food for a family of four,” Dwyer says. She explains that the volunteers here today are delivering some 1,000 tubes to about 150 locations — homes, apartments and community plots around Dallas. With some variation depending on conditions, each

participating household will receive eight of the soil-filled tubes, instructions for care, a two-gallon watering can, enough seed or sprout for one growing season and a recipe book. Recipients sign a contract with their respective nonprofit, agreeing to follow the instructions.

“This is important,” Dwyer explains, “because this is a pilot program. The participants who received the gardens will need to do some work in order to reap the produce, but if it works, it is something that could make a real difference in years to come for families dealing with poverty and hunger. This type of responsibility also empowers.”

Dwyer says more than one in five adults and one in four children in Dallas are at risk of hunger, based on data from the DCHS. “The stats represent hundreds of thousands of people who struggle every day to obtain enough food to get by. It doesn’t need to be this way,” she says. The DCHS, she says, has outlined a clear plan — utilizing the altruism of area church congregations — to make a real impact when it comes to hunger.

“GardenSoxx is just one step in a broader plan to end hunger in our city,” she says.

The hunger coalition and partner organizations have launched several ventures with the same goals: help families in need gain access to available social services and obtain health insurance and healthcare; feed school-age children during summer, when they do not have access to public-school lunch programs; educate heads of families through nutrition and cooking classes; and feed homebound residents via a Meals on Wheels program.

Four weeks after the delivery of GardenSoxx to the gardeners, dallashungersolutions.org blogger Wendy Ortiz checked in on several of the families and organizations that received the gardens.

One Northlake Baptist Church member, from whose GardenSoxx green sprigs jut, told Ortiz that he learned gardening as a child, from his grandparents, and that the project can be as emotionally fulfilling as it is nutritionally.

A City Church member told Ortiz that she equates her own garden tending to the way she believes God cares for her.

Ortiz reports that members of the Wesley-Rankin Community Center in Oak Cliff are using the gardens as a way to work collectively to build a sense of fellowship.

“Everything from placement of the garden, to maintenance, to who would receive the food harvested, were decisions made with everyone’s input,” she explains.

“Wesley-Rankin Community Center knows that in order for this garden project to be truly successful, everyone’s voice needs to be heard.”

Both Ortiz and Dwyer point out that a social byproduct of the project is the collaboration between church members who live financially comfortably and the members or garden recipients who have less.

“It is a way for folks from different backgrounds to engage with one another,” Dwyer says.

Learn more about:
Dallas Coalition for Hunger Solutions at dallashungersolutions.org
Family Garden Initiative at familygardeninitiative.org
GardenSoxx at gardensoxx.com