Five years providing fresh food for the hungry

By Diane Smith 

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Purple eggplants, dark-green jalapenos and fragrant English mint peek from an urban garden visible to those who walk along West 7th Street near the UNT Health Science campus. 

The vegetables and herbs are part of the fall harvest for the UNTHSC Community Garden which is celebrating its five-year anniversary. 

The garden serves vulnerable communities by providing fresh food for the hungry. It is also strengthening the relationship between the university and residents of Fort Worth. 

Many people have stopped me, as they are walking on the street, to ask what it is that we do,” said Dorette Ellis, PhD, Associate Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences, who cares for a garden plot.  

The garden draws people in, Ellis said, adding: “You see smiles on their faces when they look at the flowers, when they see the vegetables. Some bring their children. It’s very important. 

During the the community garden’s five-year anniversary event last week, volunteers showcased the program’s roots and highlighted efforts to fight hunger. They also recognized long-time supporters of the effort. 

“The Community Garden is a prime example of how UNTHSC improves the human condition,” said Betsy Friauf, Senior Communications Specialist in the Office of Brand and Communication and the garden’s founding coordinator. She was among volunteers recognized. 

“The garden feeds the hungry, provides local organic produce, and teaches people of all ages to grow food – from preschoolers to great-grandparents. I’m so proud of our UNTHSC team and gardeners from our community, Friauf said. 

Shelly Borders, Associate Director of Foundation Relations, also served as a coordinator for the garden. 

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The garden expanded programs, including tours for schoolchildren and community groups. A paid part-time coordinator, Celina Esekawu, was added a year ago. 

 “When we think about community gardens, it is really about pulling the community into food accessibility, growing food and sustainable practices, Esekawu said. 

The UNTHSC Sustainability Committee began planning a garden in 2012 in response to many requests and a campus survey showing support for a green space dedicated to growing food. 

The campus garden was built in February 2014. Forty volunteers helped build plots and filled them with soil. In the beginning, there were 16 plots. Now, there are 35. 

The community garden has produced about 1,300 pounds of donated fresh food since it started, said Sandy Bauman, UNTHSC Sustainability Coordinator. 

“Our future goals are to donate over 450 pounds in 2020 and really focus on education to the gardeners and the community.  We want to focus on awareness of food insecurity, growing your own food and how community gardens can play a role in that.” Bauman said. 

The garden connects the campus to nearby Fort Worth neighborhoods – a characteristic described by organizers and volunteers as intentional. 

About 25 percent of the food grown helps the hungry. In 2018, 133.5 pounds was donated to the food pantry at the Northside Inter-Community Agency. Another 49.4 pounds was donated to the UNTHSC Student Food Pantry. 

Dani Esteban, a first-year TCOM student and a community garden volunteer, said more people need to experience the garden. 

“Anyone can contribute to the garden – students, faculty, community members,” Esteban said. “It’s good to let people know this is here.”  

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