El Cenizo community garden feeding residents
2/27/2012 12:00:00 AM by
Community garden at El Cenizo's Agua Viva Lutheran Church is producing fresh greens. Master gardener Tomas Hernandez, age 82, shows Salo Otero, STFB Marketing Director, the garden funded through a co-op program that feeds residents in the South Texas Food Bank Kids Cafes and elderly programs.
A community garden at Mission Luterana Agua Viva Church in El Cenizo continues to grow fresh produce and grow in size.
What started as an 11-bed garden behind the church at 3520 Cecilia Lane almost two years ago is now into other lots in the rural community south of Laredo. The goal is to have 30 beds (growing produce) notes Jaime Arizpe, regional coordinator for the Office of Border Affairs under the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.
As a member of the South Texas Food Bank (STFB) board, Arizpe also got the STFB involved. Agua Viva Church opened a Kids Café named Pan De Vida almost two years ago. Kids Cafe provides an after school meal to needy children. Agua Viva pastor Mariana Mendez has used produce from the garden for meals to feed the almost 100 attending Monday through Friday.
The community garden program is coordinated by the University of Texas Pan American Rural Enterprise Development in cooperation with the Buckner Foundation and the Texas A&M Prairie View Co-Op Extension. The Texas A&M International University Students in Free Enterprise are also involved.
El Cenizo resident and former farmhand Tomas Hernandez, 82, and still going strong, has been involved since day one as a volunteer, bringing a wealth of experience in the field of produce. Hernandez, native of Aguascalientes, Mexico and in Laredo 22 years, previously worked at La Perla Ranch near Zapata, but says he’s been growing gardens since age 14. Hernandez has helped in the community garden planting cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes, cilantro, carrots and other items. “I know a little bit about it,” he beams. “By 7 a.m. I’m here ‘en fuego’ (on fire and ready to go).”
Additional planting beds are coming at a lot along the Rio Grande. A Home Depot $5,000 grant that was procured for them by the South Texas Food Bank helped buy garden beds, tools, seed and other materials.
During a garden tour of South Texas Food Bank representatives, Hernandez pointed to some new produce that includes broccoli, radishes, beets, cauliflower , squash, melons and chile peppers. “Esto es puro bueno (This is all good),” he said, eyeing the greenery. Fruit trees might also be planted soon. Arizpe notes , “The Buckner Foundation (a Dallas-based group) has a program through its children and family services division geared to colonia residents becoming more self sufficient.” The gardens are helping feed residents of El Cenizo and Rio Bravo in the South Texas Food Bank Kids Café and elderly programs. Left over produce will be sold at the Laredo Farmers Market.
In addition to the garden, the project will soon have chicken coups and chickens which will produce eggs. Arizpe adds there are plans to build a bakery and tortilleria business run by local residents. Other Webb County colonias are due similar programs.
“The South Texas Food Bank is about building co-operatives like this one with the goal of reaching our mission of feeding the hungry,” said a food bank spokesman. “We are not just a food bank, but a non-profit looking to better the lifestyle of our residents.”
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