It was when Teresa learned about Urban Harvest, a local nonprofit that develops community gardens and farmers markets
around Houston, that the dots finally connected in her mind.
One of its directors had this theory: He told her that a one-acre
market garden in this temperate climate where you can grow
year-round might be able to provide a livable wage, which, with
Houston’s fairly a=ordable cost of living, means about $21,000
annually for one person. He hadn’t tried to prove his theory, but
Teresa was curious, so she made some phone calls. She asked
Catholic Charities if any of their refugees were, by chance, farmers. All of them, was the reply.
Fourteen Congolese refugees participated in that first train-
ing class in 2012. Every Saturday for almost a year, Plant It For-
ward trained the refugees how to grow from seeds, how to use
drip irrigation, how to control pests organically, how to display
produce for the Whole Foods crowd. Toward the end of their
training, the new farmers were allocated a small parcel, just
under an acre each on the Fondren Farm, and on other unused
tracts around the city. They were also given a stipend during the
first few risky months, after they had quit their low-wage jobs but
before they had harvested produce to bring to market.
Self-su=iciency in the form of a livable wage is Plant It Forward’s vision for its farmers, and its success in making this
vision a reality distinguishes it from most other refugee farm
and garden programs across the country, which focus on generating supplemental income and produce to feed refugee families. To its visionary end, Plant It Forward has—in addition to
the training and the land — set up a warehouse with refrigerators
and cleaning stations and storage for all the farmers to use, and
it maintains a stockpile of tools and equipment. It also develops
Henriette Ngangoula and Sarment Louamba inside the greenhouse at the Plant It Forward Demonstration Farm, where a new Plant It Forward
class of farmers is being trained.