Innovating food deserts

Houston nonprofit grows to provide more resources to underserved communities in Houston

Urban Harvest is introducing a new location and a new program that accepts government assistance. Erik Scheel/Pexels

For some Houstonians, fresh foods are far away and too expensive to incorporate into their diets regularly. A Houston organization is looking to change that.

Urban Harvest, a 25-year-old nonprofit focused on bringing fresh produce and education to underserved communities, received a $347,000 grant from the Rebuild Texas Fund earlier this year to expand their services across town. The expansion also means a new community farmers market in northeast Houston that opens on Saturday, August 17, at Kashmere Gardens Elementary School (4901 Lockwood Drive).

The farmers market was created to serve a food desert continuing to recover from Hurricane Harvey, according to a news release. Urban Harvest is partnering with Northeast Houston Redevelopment Council and Common Market to create and run the market.

The new market will accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits, which offer nutrition assistance to over 637,000 low-income individuals in Harris County. With the addition of the Double Up Houston program, which launched in April 2019, SNAP shoppers receive a dollar-for-dollar match, up to $20 per day, that they will be able to use to purchase fresh produce. In total, there are 13 farm stands across Houston that can access the Double Up SNAP incentive.

"Double Up is new to Houston, this is the first time we have had a Double Up kind of program here in the metroplex, ever," says Janna Roberson, executive director of Urban Harvest. "It is something that is very common in a lot of states."

Fair Food Network, based in Michigan, assists in working the Double Up program in 22 states across the country, including their partnership with Urban Harvest in Texas. "It gives people the opportunity to be able to purchase fruits and vegetables, which are very expensive," said Roberson.

"Last fall we received a grant with a large group of partners for Double Up Houston," Roberson tells InnovationMap. The grant was gifted by Rebuild Texas, a fund created by the Austin-based Michael & Susan Dell Foundation after Harvey.

"Initially, they did not do a lot of funding in Houston because we have a lot of resources here in our city, so their primary task was to fund in other places that had been hit by Hurricane Harvey that didn't have that foundation," adds Roberson. "They were really interested in areas of Houston that had been hit by Harvey and impacted, and how those places related to food and food access."

Urban Harvest, founded in 1994, is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization providing community garden programming, farmers markets, gardening classes, and youth education. The farmers markets, launched in 2014, bring in farmers and producers from within 180 miles of Houston, offering the freshest, local produce and meats available. The organization has a staff of 11 and is located in east downtown Houston.

"There is programming also going at these markets where we are working with the University of Houston and the Houston Food Bank's nutrition office to have people come out to the markets and actually prep fresh produce to be able to show people, with very simple recipes, what you can do with the extra vegetables that you are purchasing," says Roberson.

In the past year, Urban Harvest has been working to strategically grow in the greater Houston area. In September of last year, the organization's main farmers market moved to its current location at 2752 Buffalo Speedway, tripling in size.

"We moved the market and expanded it, presenting some 72 vendors at the market location," Roberson tells InnovationMap. The Buffalo Speedway market operates 52 weeks a year every Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon.

Urban Harvest has over a dozen spots where it has weekly farmers markets around town. Courtesy of Urban Harvest

Houston added more than a million people in the last decade. Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

The Lone Star State is proving quite popular, at least according to the U.S. Census Bureau. As reported by numbers released on March 26, Texas is home to cities with the fastest-growing large metro area in the nation and the biggest numeric gain of residents.

Those would be Austin and Dallas-Fort Worth, respectively. And we'll delve into their numbers in a minute, because first it's time to talk about Houston.

H-Town actually nipped at DFW's heels in terms of the numeric population gain from 2010 to 2019. In that time, the Houston area picked up 1,145,654 residents, the second highest total among U.S. metros. That's around the number of people who live in the Buffalo, New York, metro area.

Houston stills holds the No. 5 position on the list of the largest U.S. metro areas. The bureau put its 2019 population at 7,066,141, up 19.4 percent from 2010.

Austin, meanwhile, saw its population shoot up 29.8 percent between 2010 and 2019, landing at 2,227,083 as of July 1, 2019. Put another way, the Austin area added 510,760 residents during the one-decade span.

From 2018 to 2019 alone, the Austin area's population rose 2.8 percent, the Census Bureau says. Numerically, the one-year increase was 61,586 (taking into account births, deaths, new arrivals to the area, and people moving away). That works out to 169 people per day.

Helping drive the Austin area's population spike from 2010 to 2019 were two of the country's fastest-growing counties. Hays County ranked as the second-fastest growing county in the U.S. (46.5 percent) in the past decade, the Census Bureau says, with Williamson County at No. 9 (39.8 percent).

In terms of numeric growth, Travis County ranked 10th in the country from 2010 to 2019 with the addition of 249,510 residents, according to the Census Bureau.

While Austin was the fastest-growing major metro area from 2010 to 2019, Dallas-Fort Worth topped the Census Bureau list for the biggest numeric gain. During that period, DFW welcomed 1,206,599 residents. To put that into perspective, that's about the same number of people who live in the entire Salt Lake City metro area.

On July 1, 2019, DFW's population stood at 7,573,136, up 19 percent from 2010. It remains the country's fourth largest metro, behind New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

Although the San Antonio metro area didn't make the top 10 for percentage or numeric growth from 2010 to 2019, two of the region's counties appeared among the 10 fastest-growing counties:

  • Ranked at No. 4, Comal County's population jumped 43.9 percent.
  • Ranked at No. 5, Kendall County's population rose 42.1 percent.

In the previous decade, the San Antonio area's population climbed 19.1 percent, winding up at 2,550,960 in 2019, the Census Bureau says. Over the 10-year period, the region added 408,440 residents.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.