Plant It Forward

Our Story

The idea for Plant It Forward came to a group of local software entrepreneurs as they were looking for a way to give back to the community in 2010. In partnership with Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement program and Urban Harvest, a local community garden non-profit, the idea for Plant It Forward was born. A local church leased the organization three acres and introduced them to 14 Congolese refugee farmers. Over two separate meetings this group met with the farmers and considered the next steps. All the farmers signed on for the class which kicked off in 2012.

During the first year of operation a one-acre farm was built and 11 of the 14 farmers graduated after completing a 12-month training program on sustainable farming and how to sell produce in Houston. Of these 11 farmers, nine were moved to their own farms, one is farming independently and one, at 72 years old, decided to retire. Today nine Plant It Forward farmers are earning a living by farming 6.5 acres at four locations in Houston.

Houston resettles more refugees than any other American city, and more than all but three countries globally. Most refugees have spent years in refugee camps outside of their native countries living in extreme conditions while waiting to realize the American dream. Once here they face significant challenges assimilating into their new homeland as few have the language or job skills to find meaningful work. Some of these refugees come from agrarian backgrounds and know how to raise quality food, but there is not a single classified job posting for an experienced farmer.

Houston is a desert when it comes to fresh, locally grown food. We import almost all the food we consume, even though eight out of ten Houstonians say locally grown food is important to them. Fresh produce is in such high demand and short supply in Houston, that even our most visionary grocery stores are labeling produce from El Paso – the equivalent distance as Nashville – as “local!” As a city overflowing with land, sun and water, we deserve the infrastructure to be able to grow and purchase healthy, fresh and local food.

Plant It Forward Farms brings together the people and resources needed to make that vision a reality. We partner with social and faith-based groups to provide land and tools to refugees who settle in Houston with few other skills besides farming. Refugees receive training at a model farm, as well as additional business assistance to help sell their produce through farmers’ markets, farm stands, farm shares and restaurant sales. A portion of each success helps provide opportunities for future refugees, and our replicable model can easily be scaled to support hundreds of urban farms throughout the city and beyond. Through Plant It Forward Farms, refugees can become active and contributing citizens that help Houston realize its potential as a leader in sustainable living.