According to the Food and Agricultural Organization, the minimum amount of land needed for self-sustainable food in North America or Western Europe is 17 acres. Yet one organization’s farmers are doing more with less. Farming is global and the agricultural soil in the United States is among the world’s best. That is why the U.S. continues to be a net exporter of food.
Heartland farming for domestic consumption has been augmented locally by the emerging trend of urban farming. This category has enabled a wave of international growers whose native farming traditions come from as far away as Africa.
Plant It Forward (PIF) has created opportunity for farmers overseas whose life circumstances deserve a chance at something better. The Texas-based nonprofit organization began with the mission to empower refugees to develop sustainable farming businesses that produce fresh, healthy food for the community. It is driven by a vision where thriving farmers enrich Houston’s vibrant culture. These farmers are working plots of land less than five acres in some cases.
For PIF, helping its farmers continue the journey of cultivating the soil, harvesting its bounty, and selling in America is a rewarding mission. For the farmers, it is a dream come true. It is a winning combination as unused plots of urban land can begin contributing to the food supply.
Bobilya Apendeki adds vibrancy to market
PIF first came to the Westchase District Farmers Market two years ago in the presence of Bobilya Apendeki. Originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Apendeki and her family spent many years in Tanzania before being granted resettlement in the U.S. in 2016. “A lifelong farmer, Apendeki speaks Swahili, Kimbembe, and is studiously and fearlessly learning English,” said Daniella Lewis, PIF’s Enterprise Programs Director. “She loves the weather in Houston because it’s not too cold!”
Apendeki’s bright smile draws as much attention as her eye-popping greens and freshly harvested produce. Apendeki was referred to the market by another farmer participating in PIF’s program.
For Apendeki, farming feels like home because she’s been doing it her whole life, according to Lewis. “Bobilya offers recommendations to others based on her life experiences: take up farming or gardening and take every opportunity to learn in school,” said Lewis. “She also welcomes volunteers and customers to visit her urban farm in Southwest Houston.”
“I’m personally impressed with the productivity of Bobilya’s farm – a result of her effective management techniques,” said Lewis. Apendeki’s family, specifically her daughter Furaha, supports her farming business in a big way, assisting with transportation and selling at the farmers market. “I admire Bobilya’s work ethic, independence and positive attitude,” said Lewis.
PIF provides a structure for its farmers to participate at farmers markets across town. PIF and its independent farmers cooperatively share marketing responsibilities. Farmers are chiefly responsible for in-person marketing and customer service, while PIF staff manage the digital realm. “Throughout the year, PIF will host workshops and discussion sessions with PIF-network farmers to provide guidance in farmers market marketing techniques, and to improve the customer experience,” said Lewis.
Farm to table with entrepreneurial spirit
If you can’t shop at a market, Apendeki makes it easy to buy her produce. Apendeki not only sells, but also provides Farm Shares at the market. According to Lewis, she also sells much of her fresh produce to the Plant It Forward Food Hub, which distributes farm shares each week to Houston households and neighborhood pickup points, as well as chef and wholesale clients. Find out more at plantitforward.farm