Across the street from Wheatley Middle School on Thursday, bright green leaves sprouted from rows of soil. The broccoli plants had been transplanted into the newly developed Greenies Urban Farm on the East Side of San Antonio and were waiting for more of their kin to be planted alongside them.

Representatives of Bexar County, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, and the San Antonio Food Bank celebrated the first planting at the urban farm on Thursday morning. The vegetable plants mark the first phase of the urban farm project, Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4) said. 

“We are here in part because this community was neglected by the powers of this city and this county,” Calvert said. “Today, we open a new era of investment in the notion that all people in Bexar County will be treated with dignity. These grounds were once known in the neighborhood as the Goonies, because this land between the tracks and the school was overgrown and an eyesore. And thanks be to God and the voices of the people of God who asked [Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff] to do something about this particular Goonie. We are officially renaming the Goonies the Greenies.”

Calvert hopes that the Greenies Urban Farm will become a place that Eastside residents can be proud of and where people can visit to learn about farming, gardening, and even financial literacy, he said.

“Mark my words, this urban farm will be a destination place,” he said. “This is going to be a place where people may come out on patios and sit and listen to music, and maybe even taste some … Precinct 4 wine that is grown on this particular land. And bring back investment, bring back a new beginning for a community that was often left behind. So … we dedicate to you this chapter of new taking pride in the East Side.”

By next week, the Greenies Urban Farm will boast 5,000 to 6,000 newly transplanted vegetables, said David Rodriguez, coordinator of Bexar County master gardeners and county extension agent of horticulture for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. So far, AgriLife Extension agents have put 1,200 broccoli plants, 700 cabbage plants, 200 kale plants, and 300 cauliflower plants into the soil, Rodriguez said. The workers started planting the vegetables on Tuesday and hope to be done by next Wednesday.

“We’re basically averaging about 1,200 plants per day,” Rodriguez said. “It’s been so hot the last two days so we try to finish by noon time.”

Texas A&M AgriLife Direct Extension Manager Michael Haynes plants a broccoli plant at The Greenies on Thursday. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

San Antonio Food Bank CEO Eric Cooper joined Calvert and other officials Thursday to plant ceremonial broccoli transplants in the newly turned soil. He praised the East Side urban farm project as a way to move the community toward food security and educate neighborhood residents about healthy eating and living. The urban farm will help knock down some of the main barriers to maintaining a healthy lifestyle: not only providing fresh produce but teaching people about eating healthy.

“This farm, it’ll share,” Cooper said. “It’ll give. It’ll nourish.”

“I grew up a 4-H kid. I was a future farmer. And it’s crazy how the power of a farm or garden not only nourishes the body but teaches the principles of hard work. It teaches [that] we reap what we sow, we sow what we reap. There are seasons, seasons that are hard. And right now our community is in one of those seasons. But seasons pass, and there’s hope and opportunity.”

Eric Cooper, President and CEO of the San Antonio Food Bank. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The second phase of the urban farm will start soon, Bexar County project manager Jesse Escamilla said. That part of the project will entail building three structures at the farm – an administrative building for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension workers, an outdoor classroom for people to learn things ranging from falconry to cooking to gardening, and an events center that could one day be used to host weddings and other celebrations. 

Escamilla predicted that by December, he would have selected a contractor and asked county commissioners for approval on the next phase of the project. The goal is to complete “a big portion” of Phase 2 construction by next September, he said.

Ultimately, there will be about 20 employees from the AgriLife Extension working at the urban farm, Calvert said. The Bexar County offices of AgriLife Extension are currently based in an office space on Cherry Ridge and Interstate 410 but will relocate to the urban farm once the structures are finished.

Master Gardeners at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, Ruben Rodriguez, left, and Ashley Pulido helped plant hundreds of broccoli plants at The Greenies. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Calvert explained that the urban farm also was close to his heart because he comes from a family of farmers and grew up learning how to garden from his mother.

“I really believe in my heart and my soul in the value of teaching generations to come about learning to live off the land and that hard work and the blessings that come with that kind of harvest,” Calvert said. “It’s a wonderful thing for people to learn.”

The County and the Food Bank will partner to distribute the crops after they are harvested, Calvert said. Hopefully, the transplanted vegetables will be fully grown by the holidays, Rodriguez said. But he acknowledged the timeline could change.

“You can say stuff, but it’s all weather-related,” Rodriguez said, gesturing to the sky.

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.