Spring harvest caps off successful community gardening project

RIO GRANDE CITY — An event to cap off the second season of what has become a community-changing gardening trend in Starr County, along the Texas-Mexico border, will include people from all walks of life, according to Yolanda Morado, a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service county agent there.

Students at Dr. Barrera Elementary School in Rio Grande City harvest part of their produce in the Eagles' Garden. (Photo courtesy of AgriLife Extension)

Students at R.T. Barrera Elementary School in Starr County harvest part of their produce in their Eagles’ Garden. (AgriLife Extension photo by Paul Bowers)

The second annual Spring Harvest Day will be held from 9 a.m. to noon May 29 at R. T. Barrera Elementary School, 126 North Farm-to-Market Road 649 in Garceno.

“Children who have gladly poured their hearts into growing these vegetables at their school’s Eagles’ Garden will be harvesting their produce and taking part in a variety of events,” she said. “Virtually every child in this school was put in charge of some aspect of planting and caring for their garden and their efforts were outstanding.”

Other events include a food demonstration and cook off using produce harvested from the garden, as well as an exhibit on water conservation, rainwater collection and composting.

“This will be a joyful event to help close out the school year and where we’ll pay tribute to all those who made this and other gardens in the community possible,” Morado said. “We’ll also show a video that will demonstrate, among many other accomplishments, students who have taken what they’ve learned about gardening and started a family garden at home.”

Students proudly show off vegetables they grew at Dr. Barrera Elementary School in Rio Grande City. (Photo courtesy of AgriLife Extension)

Students proudly show off vegetables they grew at R.T. Barrera Elementary School in Starr County. (AgriLife Extension photo by Paul Bowers)

The AgriLife Extension gardening effort in Starr County started two years ago when Morado received a small grant to start a garden at one elementary school.

“The response from the community to that first garden was tremendous,” she said. “More and more schools wanted gardens and the gardening bug hit Starr County hard. We eventually had to form a group of community leaders which we call the Working on Wellness Coalition, or WOW.”

The coalition includes members from school districts, city governments, hospital boards and South Texas College who together helped create 16 gardens throughout the area.

Support also came from all three school districts in Starr County, including the Rio Grande City, Roma and San Isidro districts.

There are now gardens at public locations throughout the community, including high schools, child and adult daycare centers, a parent center and hands-on teaching gardens at various churches.

“This effort has really taken off in Starr County,” Morado said. “The coalition is the driving force behind it all, but we get help from all walks of life, including county commissioners, city officials, and even agriculture teachers who were once my 4-H students.

Teacher Rolando Munoz (kneeling) teaches students the finer points of planting vegetables at Dr. Barrera Elementary School in Rio Grande City. (Photo courtesy of AgriLife Extension)

Teacher Rolando Munoz (kneeling) teaches students the finer points of planting vegetables at R.T. Barrera Elementary School in Starr County. (AgriLife Extension photo by Paul Bowers)

“It’s all about wellness and encouraging people to eat more fruits and vegetables. Next year we plan to start teaching students and adults how to grow strawberries, mangoes and guavas.”

In addition to improving wellness, Morado said the gardening fad has brought generations of families together.

“At one time, Starr County was one of the state’s top commercial producers of fruits and vegetables,” she said. “So we have a lot of older citizens who worked the fields back then and were migrant field workers. They now have the chance to teach the younger generations of their families how to properly weed a garden and how to fertilize, irrigate and harvest. We see a lot of that intergenerational communication.”

She’s also seen the change in kids’ behaviors.

“They love working in their gardens,” Morado said. “They actually look forward to it. And if they’re gardening, they’re not getting into mischief. At some schools we have to set up wash basins because they tend to eat the carrots as they harvest them. At another school, we had set up a water slide for the kids to play on, but we couldn’t tear them away from their gardens to come play.”

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