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Plant It Forward Farm: Helping Refugees Earn a Living

I live in Houston and love writing reviews of the local restaurants I visit with family and friends.

We purchased some of these fresh beets.

We purchased some of these fresh beets.

Happenstance Discovery

My hubby and I were intending to go to the Houston Zoo yesterday, but instead, we ended up at the Plant It Foward Farm. Even though we had arrived in Hermann Park only 30 minutes after the zoo had opened for the day, we were unable to find a parking spot. Note to self...try going on a weekday instead of a Saturday when it is less crowded.

While in the nearby Montrose area, we made an incredible discovery. A sizable garden with a farm stand of locally grown produce was spotted. Stopping to check it out, we learned about the Plant It Forward Farms in Houston and their mission.

The address is 1318 Sul Ross Street, Houston, Texas 77006.


At first, I thought it might be a community garden. I had read about such gardens in other towns and cities. People from neighborhoods all pitch in together and share the labors as well as the fruits of their endeavors.

They only harvest what they need for personal use from the community gardens. It works beautifully and develops comradery between the neighbors as well as exercise and nutrition.

We saw several adults and children working in this garden. It turned out that they were volunteers helping the local farmer.

In talking to a young lady at the farm stand in Montrose, we found out that the University of St. Thomas has lent this 1/2 acre of land to be used for gardening. Some of the students at the university, as well as other volunteers from local companies, do volunteer work in this garden.

How This Originated

The Plant It Forward Farms originated in Houston because of two University of St. Thomas alumni. Graduating just one year apart in 1976 and 1977 they wished to do something about the plight of African refugees who find themselves living in Houston. The refugees had already given up all that they knew and loved in their former countries. Many of them probably also risked their very lives in eventually getting over here. Many of them used to be farmers in their own countries.

Theresa O'Connell and her brother Pat decided that with a little help from local sources, those refugees could become successful farmers once again. The refugee farmers could then support their families and gain back their independence and with it their self-respect as contributing members of society.

Of course, they would need land, supplies and have to learn how to grow gardens with the Houston soil and climate conditions successfully. This seedling idea has sprung forth a bounty of support and willing participants in this new venture. The Plant It Forward Farms is set up as a non-profit charity.

Here is much more about how this idea was generated and came to fruition in the video below. Teresa O'Donnell tells the story in her own words.

Farmer Roy

Farmer Roy Lemba is the Congolese refugee who is farming this land. He along with the volunteers use organic farming methods in growing the produce. We saw a massive compost pile. Herbs which repel pests grow alongside other vegetables. Rotation of crops is done so as not to deplete the soil of life-giving nutrients.

Every Saturday this particular farm stand in Montrose is open from 10 am to 2 pm.

Fennel and Other Vegetables

We saw Farmer Roy go into the field and pull some fresh fennel. I couldn't wait to purchase one of them for last night's meal. The fennel bulb was sauteed along with some caramelized onion, and it accompanied some pan-fried fish and a tossed green salad. My hubby and I both love that distinctive flavor of anise-like fennel. The fronds are saved and will be additions to soups and other preparations.

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Also purchased yesterday were a couple of luscious vine-ripened tomatoes, a couple of cucumbers fresh from the field, a small bag of yellow beans, a bunch of beets, some arugula, and some sorrel.

Neither of us had ever tasted sorrel, and the young lady describing the mission of Plant It Forward Farms encouraged us to taste part of a leaf. It is very lemony in flavor. Farmer Roy spoke to me about how he likes to eat it in soup form.

Naturally, I decided to give that a try and have just made my very first pot of sorrel soup today. It is currently chilling in our refrigerator, and we will be giving it a try tonight. There are many recipes online. We decided to try one using leeks, a potato, some peas, chicken broth, water, and a bit of sour creme. Before eating it will be given a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and topped with some hard-boiled egg and slivered fresh sorrel leaves.

It was fun talking to Farmer Roy. Buying locally grown items harvested that same day is bound to beat the flavor much less the nutritional value of the same items shipped from far away places to local grocery stores. We are looking forward to eating more of his homegrown vegetables and herbs.

Farmers Markets

There are other such farms in Houston, and they sell not only at their local market stands. Some chefs from well-known restaurants are purchasing their products. Their goods are also shown at several other farmer's markets. Individuals can sign up to get a weekly box of locally grown produce with a wide variety of seasonal items delivered to locations around the city.

If this sounds like something you would like to do, click on the source link below for prices and locations. You can also learn more about this helpful organization.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Peggy Woods


Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 29, 2020:

Hi Sally,

You are correct when writing that this Plant It Forward Farm is a perfect example of the American dream coming true. It is a fantastic enterprise!

Sally on October 29, 2020:

Nicely done entry about the American dream coming true.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 12, 2020:

Hi Brenda,

I love the idea behind these particular farmers' markets. Like you, I do grow a few things in our garden. My space is limited primarily because of having so much shade.

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on October 11, 2020:


There is nothing better than fresh grown vegetables & fruits.

I love the idea of plant it forward farms.

I try to grow as many of my own as I can but this year I only had red & yellow tomatoes.

They have been delicious & still quite a few yet to ripen if the weather cooperates.

Thanks for the share.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 29, 2020:

Hi Rebecca,

I agree with you that community gardens are fantastic, and that we need more of them. The focus of helping refugees to earn a living is a great combination!

Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on September 29, 2020:

I love the concept of community gardens. We need more! Your article is an inspiration. Thanks for sharing!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 22, 2020:

Greetings HaremCinema,

Humans can indeed help one another if they desire. The people that are helping refugees in this manner are helping everyone in the area at the same time. I am pleased that you enjoyed learning about this effort.

HaremCinema on September 21, 2020:

This was a nice hub. It's good to read things like this. it restores your faith in humankind I think.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 05, 2020:

Hi Adrienne,

Like you, I love this concept and applaud the people who initiated it. It is a win-win for everyone involved.

Adrienne Farricelli on September 05, 2020:

This is a great idea and honorable way to help refugees in need. Nice to hear that Houston offers such perks which benefit both refugees and those who shop for fresh produce.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 30, 2020:

Hi Rosina,

Yes, this combination is truly a win-win situation. One can feel so good by shopping there knowing the benefits of helping a refugee family while at the same time securing fresh produce.

Rosina S Khan on July 30, 2020:

I like the idea of Plant It Forward Farms in Houston very much. It not only helps the refugee farmers and their families but also Houston benefits from locally grown produce. The Win-Win couldn't have been better.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 25, 2020:

Hi Denise,

It would be a blessing if someone in your area would develop a program similar to the Plant It Forward concept to help the refugees in your area. Sometimes all it takes is a single person with a mission to help others to get it off the ground.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on July 24, 2020:

That's a fabulous idea. I know there are quite a few Hmong refugees who live in my area who are also good farmers. They don't have the help that Plant It Forward gave those refugees but if they did, just imagine.



Robert Sacchi on May 29, 2020:

That's great.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 28, 2020:

Hi Robert,

These small farms can produce enough produce to not only help the refugee farmer and his family, but also provide locally grown fresh produce. It is a win-win! Glad you like the idea.

Robert Sacchi on May 28, 2020:

What a novel idea. Thank you for sharing.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 27, 2020:

Hi Manatita,

These refugees already knew how to farm. All they needed was some land and education regarding the local soil and climate to make a living. It is fantastic that they were given the opportunity to flourish. The same thing could undoubtedly be done in many places around the world.

manatita44 from london on May 26, 2020:

Educational, inspirational and innovative. We need more like these and in Africa too. Not all leaders like the idea of hand-outs. They feel that if you teach the African, he can then do it for himself to make a living.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 19, 2020:

Hi Chitrangada,

Yes, the Plant It Forward initiative is a noble concept and cause. Thanks for weighing in on how it can aid many people in a community.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on May 18, 2020:

Plant it forward sounds like a wonderful and noble concept.

I can imagine, the number of people it must be benefitting. More and more such initiatives should be adopted everywhere.

I like the concept of the farmers market. Thanks for sharing this wonderful information.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 17, 2020:

Hello sowspeaks,

This is the perfect pairing of purposes for these refugee farmers and the local community that now has delicious, organically-grown produce to be able to purchase. Like you, I hope that this idea spreads all across our nation, and elsewhere, for that matter.

sowspeaks from Bengaluru on May 17, 2020:

Hi Peggy! What a wonderful but a very simple concept. What a way to restore dignity. Also like the idea that it is organic farming where they apply the knowledge that they applied elsewhere.Hope this initiative finds many more takers. Thanks Peggy for sharing.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 13, 2020:

Thanks, Karen. I just hope that the children separated from their parents have, by now, been reunited. That was a tragedy!

Karen A Szklany from New England on May 13, 2020:

I agree! I's love to go down to the Mexican Border and free the immigrants and give them fertile land to cultivate! ✨ Hope more and more people read this article. Shared on gb & pinterest.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 13, 2020:

Hello Karen,

The Plant It Forward Farm idea is inspirational. It would be fantastic if this same idea would expand throughout our country.

Karen A Szklany from New England on May 12, 2020:

Very inspiring artical, Peggy W!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 11, 2020:

Hi Nithya,

We have never subscribed to get a box of locally grown produce because it is only the two of us living here. But for families, with more people eating on a weekly basis, it would be a convenience.

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on May 11, 2020:

Plant It Forward is a great initiative for the local community. Fresh produce grown organically is healthy and tastes great too. I like the idea of being able to receive a box of locally grown produce every week, it would make cooking a breeze!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 11, 2020:

Hi Ruby,

Thanks for letting me know the title so that I can find it and read it. Heading there now. (Smile)

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on May 11, 2020:

Peggy, I found the piece about Eva. Please forgive the crooked pictures. I am not good with a camera, esp. new fangled ones. Hee..The title is, " A True Valentine Story Of True Love And Devotion.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 11, 2020:

Hi Rajan,

Being enabled to farm over here as they did in their home countries gives refugees a purpose and a way to earn a living. It is a win-win for everyone.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 11, 2020:

Hi Linda,

Yes, the Plant It Forward Farm is a great organization.

Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on May 11, 2020:

This is a great idea and initiative to help out refugees earn a living. They will definitely improve their feeling of self-worth, pride and belonging for their chosen land. Thanks for sharing.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on May 10, 2020:

Farmers markets can be a great source of fresh food. I love the sound of the one that you describe. Plant It Forward sounds like a very helpful organization.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 10, 2020:

Hello Venkatachari,

It is wonderful to know that there are people helping refugee families. I found an organization that picks up furniture and furnishings to give to them and have had them pick up items from our neighbors that they were going to discard.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 10, 2020:

Hi Pamela,

Yes, the Victory Gardens were just about everywhere during WWII. We may have to go back to that simple idea because of the pandemic eliminating so many jobs. It is incredible what can be grown in a small plot of land, or even a pot.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 10, 2020:

Hi FlourishAnyway,

While I have not been to a farmer's market in a while, people still need to eat, so I imagine that they are still doing well. Food banks are also in need of food.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 10, 2020:

Hi Brian,

I have no idea if a similar project is taking place in the Puget Sound region. It took only a couple of motivated people to start this in Houston. Sometimes that is all it takes!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 10, 2020:

Hi Bill,

Yes, just think of the impact a program like this could have if spread all throughout the towns and cities of the United States!

Venkatachari M from Hyderabad, India on May 10, 2020:

It is very nice to know that some noble people are engaged in supporting the helpless refugees. Your article is very interesting with great photos and good information. Many others should come forward to such great causes.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on May 10, 2020:

When I started reading this article I thought of my mother talking about the victory gardens that people did during WWII. I think that the history of this garden is great.

I have never had sorrel either, but if I see some I might try it. I enjoyed this article.

Happy Mother's Day. Peggy.

FlourishAnyway from USA on May 09, 2020:

What a great idea! I hope they are surviving the economic downturn okay. It’s amazing what you can do with 1/2 acre of land and a vision!

Brian Leekley from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on May 09, 2020:

That's an inspiring story, Peggy. I wonder if anything similar is happening in the Puget Sound region.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on May 09, 2020:

Very beautiful! I wish more cities would embrace this kind of community action. We do in Olympia and it has been highly successful.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 09, 2020:

Hi Liz,

That is the beautiful thing about this Plant It Forward Farm. It helps everyone!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 09, 2020:

Hi Ruby,

It is too bad that you do not have farmer's markets where you live. I guess because of almost year-round growing conditions, it makes sense that there are more of them in the south.

Liz Westwood from UK on May 09, 2020:

This sounds like a very worthwhile project. It seems to work well for everyone involved in it.

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on May 09, 2020:

The only thing we have here is a watermelon stand, grown locally. I wish we had a farmer's market. We used to spend winters in Lakeland Fla. and they had many farmer's markets. We could buy a small basket of ripe tomatoes for a dollar. I like that this was started to help the African refugees. Enjoy your sorrel soup, that's a new one for me.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 09, 2020:

Hi Maren,

It is a fantastic hand up to the refugee families who did farming in their home countries before coming here. They, in turn, provide an essential service to our communities. It is a win-win for everyone!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 09, 2020:

Hello Halemane Muralikrishna,

It is interesting to know that farmers in your part of the world help each other grow and harvest crops. Back in the early days of farming in the U.S., often harvest time of year was a cooperative arrangement between farmers. They would pitch in and help each other with the harvests. There may have been a helper or two, but in general, the farms were smaller and could be handled by the individual farming families.

Maren Elizabeth Morgan from Pennsylvania on May 09, 2020:

What a fantastic enterprise! I live in Lancaster, PA which also heartily welcomes and supports refugees.

Halemane Muralikrishna from South India on May 09, 2020:

Very interesting volunteering activity. When farmers form groups and volunteer to work on each other's land, we may not need laborers. Whatever we grow will be something special. It will carry the flavour of own hard work. It will be amazing.

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