Plant it Forward – a non-profit, community-supported, agriculture organization in Houston, TX – has a unique solution to food insecurity during the pandemic. It aims to provide refugees with agriculture experience with small urban farms in order to provide the city with produce.
In the program, farmers work as independent contractors on small plots of donated land. The goals are to provide living wages and financial stability to the farmers as well as to increase the community production of food. Plant it Forward currently has eight farms with a total of six acres. The farmers focus on pantry staples such as rice, beans and onions. These crops are then distributed to about a thousand customers – either through a subscription service or at farmers markets. The project currently feeds 1,000 Houstonians with locally grown produce.
“I do think this decentralized model could work on a large scale,” President Liz Vallette said. “It’s more ethical, and the farmers have more autonomy. The food will cost a little more because the farmers are not undocumented workers you can take advantage of. I hope that more people start to think about where their food comes from and what the human cost of it might be.”
Research from the California Institute for Rural Studies (CIRS) has shown that industrial farm workers are currently one of the highest risk groups for Covid-19 infection. Working with few health benefits for long hours in close quarters is a prime vector for the virus. Under Plant it Forward most farmers work solo or in small family groups that are unlikely to spread the virus between them.
“They work their own hours, make their own decisions,” says Vallette. “Some don’t like to get up early. That’s fine. They can do what they want to do. You don’t see that sort of freedom for farm hands. We want to make sure our farmers have dignity and are appreciated. They aren’t essential just because they make food. It’s a noble profession.”