Eager to play with dirt and worms and eat some freshly harvested vegetables, more than 50 students unloaded from the rock-star-worthy charter bus at Lake Shore Baptist Church for this year’s Harvest Celebration, hosted by the Heart of Texas Urban Gardening Coalition. This year’s gathering – held on June 3 – recognized many students who participated at school and church gardens – including Sul Ross, Doris Miller, West Avenue and Mountainview Elementary Schools, Brazos and Tennyson Middle Schools, Lake Shore Baptist Church and the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Waco – all who partner with the HOT Urban Gardening Coalition to grow gardens. Students were joined by another 100-some community members, consisting of parents, brothers and sisters, neighbor gardeners – including Mayor Jim Bush, as well as the helping hands of over 60 volunteers.
The Harvest Celebration first started back in 2008, organized by the Back to the Earth Gardening Coalition (now the HOT Urban Gardening Coalition). The Harvest Lunch was held at Carver Park Baptist Church to honor the students and volunteers who worked at the Carver Park Baptist, Doris Miller Elementary and GL Wiley Elementary gardens. With the emergence of many more garden clubs across Waco at both schools and churches, the Coalition sought to expand the Celebration as well.
To celebrate their hard work in gardens throughout the school year, students at the Harvest Celebration had the opportunity to decoupage recycled pots with Waco Arts Initiative, create their own worm composting bins with the HOT Master Composters, harvest vegetables from the Lake Shore Baptist garden – which the students could then grill or contribute to a cooking demonstration with Chef Jacob. Volunteers from the Community Health Corps and Lake Shore Baptist Church used red potatoes, collard greens, swiss chard, onions, and carrots harvested from the gardens to make a light meal for everyone – in addition to fresh Texas peaches and watermelon and red plums from a neighbor’s yard. Two favorite delicacies among many of the gardeners were cinnamon butter-grilled peaches and chili pepper-coated watermelon! And to complete the cycle of garden goodness, food scraps and dishware (including plates, cups, spoons and forks) were composted to add to the soil fertility to grow more vegetables for future gatherings.
During the Celebration ceremony, students from each garden club shared stories and photos of their favorite memories and vegetables in the garden. Rather than receiving paper certificates for their participation in garden club, each student received a chocolate mint plant donated by Bonnie’s Greenhouse – although one student received the George E. Wolfe, Jr., Urban Gardening Memorial Scholarship. Philip Price, Jr., a 2010 graduate of Waco S.T.A.R.S. High School, was awarded the Scholarship for his work with a Coalition partner garden at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church. Price plans on attending Texas State Technical College to study landscaping. The Urban Gardening Coalition also partnered with the McLennan County Hunger Coalition to promote Waco ISD’s Summer Lunch Program and raise awareness of the health benefits of working with youth in the garden.