Learn from wizards how to "Dig-In": Austin’s Green Corn Project brings communitygardens to life
Have you ever baked a potato that was grown in a garden? Try it. You pull that sucker out of the oven and crack it open and inside there’s a bounty of starchy wonder that melts in your mouth like fresh snow.
I started gardening in 2009, with some help from a friend of mine who’d been growing food for years in San Marcos. Three years later, I’m maintaining three plots in my back yard (with some help this year from our rainy winter, thank goodness) and starting my own transplants from seed.
The benefits of growing food are potent and far-reaching, but not everyone can call on their own personal Hill Country garden wizard to help them get started. What’s more, many people might not even be aware of the depth and variety of natural goodness that can spring from their own home soil. This is where the Green Corn Project comes in.
Green Corn Project founders Shannon Kemp and Dayna Conner first broke ground at an East Austin community garden in 1998. From there, the project expanded to include tilling soil and planting starter vegetables in backyard plots around the city.
Remember the old saying: give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, but teach a family the basic skills of organic gardening and that fish will taste better, stretch further and compose a complete meal alongside some fresh broccoli and a really incredible potato.
Since 2003, the Green Corn Project has partnered with Habitat for Humanity to install food-producing gardens at Habitat houses. Austin has a wide range of assistance programs available to serve the needy and hungry, but remember the old saying: Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, but teach a family the basic skills of organic gardening and that fish will taste better, stretch further and compose a complete meal alongside some fresh broccoli and a really incredible potato.
What's more, the Green Corn Project recently began installing food-producing gardens at elementary schools in undeserved areas. The project’s first garden, at Metz Elementary on Robert T. Martinez Jr. south of Cesar Chavez, continues to produce food and educate kids on the seeming sorcery of food production. In a perhaps-coincidence of municipal geography, the south border of the Metz Elementary campus runs along Garden Street.
“Since our founding,” says David Heubel, the secretary of the board of directors of the Green Corn Project, “we’ve installed about 160 gardens by sending out teams of volunteers over three week-ends every spring and fall.” Volunteers are trained by the Green Corn Project team itself, given the tools and know-how to dig beds, plant starters and pass the fundamentals along to new garden owners.
The Project’s garden installation events are called Dig-Ins. Dig-In teams consist of four to seven helpers and a leader, who has been trained in a special session at the start of the season.
“No experience is required to be a Dig-In Leader,” David Heubel says, “just a desire to learn and help.” After training, prospective leaders can shadow more experienced Dig-In personnel until they’re ready to lead their own team.
What makes the Green Corn Project shine as an outreach initiative is its emphasis on education. Dig-In Leaders and volunteers are as much beneficiaries of the program as the garden recipients themselves. Just one or two sessions and you’ll be pulling potatoes out of your own soil in no time.
Want to be a garden wizard? The Green Corn Project holds its Dig-In Leadership Training workshop on March 10, behind the Soma Vida building. You can also sign up as a volunteer for this season’s Dig-Ins, or as a regular member of the Project’s volunteer corps.