Tucked behind Wheatley Middle School, a tiny 1-acre plot sits filled with rows of leafy green vegetables. Growing side by side are heads of broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, kale, and collard greens. Four months ago, the barren land was nothing but a brush-covered nuisance to Eastside residents, said Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4).
Now, it could help fill the stomachs and improve the health of hundreds of San Antonio residents.
The plot known as Greenies Urban Farm will be carefully harvested over the next few weeks, its produce intended to address “hunger gaps” in San Antonio, Calvert said. County, health, and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service officials launched the farm’s official first full harvest Friday with a kickoff event.
“There’s some red tape coming out of the Trump administration that is keeping [people] from getting [food] and so we’re doing [this] to cover the gaps,” Calvert told the San Antonio Report. The pandemic has only made it harder for struggling families without paper proof of their situation to get healthy foods, which makes now an ideal time for the first harvest and distribution, Calvert added.
The food will be donated to and distributed through the San Antonio Food Bank, the University Health System, and several local nonprofits and churches, according to a press statement from Calvert’s office.
The distribution of the food also launches the start of the Food is Medicine initiative, which will track how recipients of the greens from University Health System are faring, Calvert said. Recipients will be selected from among participants in the University Health System’s CareLink program, a financial assistance program open to San Antonio or Bexar County residents who do not have private or public health insurance.
“[We want to see] how these fresh vegetables heal their bodies and transform their health conditions,” Calvert said.
The land was officially cleared and readied for planting in August, said architect Debra Dockery. Dockery planned the farm and land uses along with Bryan Mask of Dunaway Associates. Plans for the land were announced in November of 2019.
Over the past 60 days, 12 Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and about 40 volunteers from the Bexar County Master Gardeners have been tending the plants, said Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horticulturist David Rodriguez.
While Friday’s event marked the first official full harvest, smaller previous harvests have already yielded approximately 1,200 pounds of food that have been donated to the San Antonio Food Bank, Calvert said.
On Friday morning, an additional 1,375 pounds of broccoli and 280 pounds of cauliflower was harvested, said Nelda Speller, county extension director at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
“We’ll likely finish this first harvest in mid-January,” said Rodriguez, adding that he and his team are not sure yet when the next phase of planting or harvesting will occur.
Phase 2 of the plan will commence sometime in the new year, Calvert said. It will include building a new office to house the headquarters for the Bexar County Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, which will have about 20 employees, creating a 100-person outdoor classroom, and building a 300-person event center. Some of the 10 designated acres will be set aside for an orchard and potentially for some livestock, Calvert said.
The funding and timing for Phase 2 are still to be determined, Calvert said. So far, more than $2 million from the Bexar County general fund has gone into creating the Greenies Urban Farm, he said.
“We can have live music out here, and folks can even have weddings in that event center, so you’re not to go to Fredericksburg just to take those iconic farm pictures,” Calvert said. “They can do that here in the ‘hood.”