Urban farm focused on youth development to expand to additional site

Urban Roots

After years of deliberating about what to do with a city-owned nine-acre tract in the Dove Springs area, City Council decided last Thursday to authorize a lease with the nonprofit Urban Roots to operate an urban farm. But the nonprofit would do much more than grow produce, and that’s what sealed the deal for City Council and for neighborhood residents.

The nonprofit, which just celebrated its 10-year anniversary, had been limited by its current, 3.5-acre property along Boggy Creek, near 183 and Bolm Rd. In a single year Urban Roots provides internships and fellowships to about 75 local young people who work with more than 1,000 volunteers to grow more than 25,000 pounds of food. But to expand its programs, it needed more land and additional facilities. With this additional farm, executive director Max Elliott says Urban Roots will be able to double its impact.

“I think this is a great opportunity to provide programming for youth,” said Council Member Delia Garza just after the resolution was passed. “It also addresses some of the food access issues that we see in district.” The city will offer Urban Roots two 15-year lease agreements with a monthly rental rate of $1,000.

Urban Roots operates as a farm-based youth-leadership program, paying young people and students from 15 different high schools a stipend while they learn to grow food, lead volunteers, and learn other professional skills. Programs take place after school and during the summer. It also offers farm tours to student and community groups. But Elliott says its impact goes beyond the students.

“We help youth develop life skills, leadership skills, a healthy relationship with food, a sense of social responsibility,” he said, “and then they’re engaging others, hosting volunteer and tour groups. Plus, we’re growing food for the community. It’s a multi-layer impact that I think impresses people.”

Ana Aguirre, chair of the Southeast Combined Neighborhood Plan Contact Team, which recommended the proposal to City Council, said she has high hopes for Urban Roots and how it might support young people in the area. Families struggle because students are zoned to attend high schools on the opposite side of the interstate, she said, which means they are less likely to participate in after-school programs because they can’t just walk home. “It’s really going to engage our kids,” she said. The neighborhood is  also considered a food desert with options for fresh produce also on the other side of I-35. “There’s where Urban Roots can help because we’ll be able to walk to a farm where food is actually being grown.”

“When I think of from a public health perspective,” said Elliott, “I love to think of the benefit of community gardens and farmers markets, and how they help shape a healthy environment. So if we can have an urban farm in a community, so residents can see the process of food and how it’s grown, I think that can help improve healthy behaviors and habits.”

PHOTO: Qwynci, 17, a two-time intern at Urban Roots, poses in the garden at Urban Roots’ Boggy Creek site. Photo from Urban Roots. 

NOTE: A version of this article also appeared in the Austin American-Statesman on December 9, 2018.
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