Living in Austin provides the wonderful opportunity to regularly come across people who put their heart and soul into helping others and the environment.
If you ever find yourself between Austin and Lockhart, you may run into a couple of these folks. Mike and Vanessa Torres run Heart of Gold Farm in Dale, Texas.
Mike and Vanessa grow tons of fresh, organic food for the underprivileged using aquaponic farming methods, which use about 95% less water and 1/3 of the energy conventional farming methods require. Aquaponic farming takes waste produced by fish or other aquatic animals and uses it to provide nutrients to plants being grown hydroponically.
Mike and Vanessa don’t draw a profit from their crop. It’s all grown and donated from the goodness of their hearts. Heart of Gold Farm is excited about their new partnership with Austin’s Capital Area Food Bank through the newly formed Farm Fresh Accessibility Project, which strives to make freshly grown food accessible to over 300 food pantries the food bank serves.
As part of this project, Heart of Gold Farm plans to turn the traditional agricultural model upside down by providing a large crop of freshly grown, leafy greens to the food bank every 45 days. These contributions will go on to serve hundreds of nonprofit and social service agencies across 21 counties in Central Texas.
I was fortunate to talk with Mike Torres over the past week, and I quickly realized how passionate he is about not only getting fresh and healthy food to the hungry, but educating people on how to make this possible everywhere and why it needs to happen.
“I think it really started after we read an article about controversy rising from the fact that users of food stamp programs like WIC and SNAP were allowed, and even encouraged, to use their benefits to shop at upscale, organic grocery stores. The argument against it being that people shouldn’t be allowed to buy expensive organic food with food stamps. We thought to ourselves that it should really be the other way around,” Torres told me.
“People who are utilizing these programs should only be allowed to buy healthy food. With that we could help lower the instances of some of these epidemics that plague Americans like heart disease, obesity, diabetes and other potentially manageable conditions…Vanessa and I know how to grow healthy food. We know there is a huge population of people who either aren’t educated in the importance of eating healthy food or feel as though healthy food options aren’t within their financial reach. That really only left one logical course of action for us, and that’s how the idea for the Farm Fresh Accessibility Project was born.”
I also spoke with Mike about why he and Vanessa chose Austin and what their long term goals are for Heart of Gold Farm. “We love Austin because it’s one of the few places in the country where people value where our food comes from and how important that is. They’re willing to pay the extra cost to insure that the farmers who are growing an apple can afford to buy one for themselves,” Torres said.
“We want to be able to build a proof of concept to help lead others into providing food for the community. We imagine a world where you see a greenhouse on every block instead of seeing diesel trucks delivering produce from across the country or even the world in some cases. This can be accomplished even in urban environments with systems like aquaponics.”
If you’d like to support Heart of Gold Farm and the Farm Fresh Accessibility Project, go here to donate or plan to attend their Farm Fresh Accessibility Project launch celebration on November 22, 2014. They’ll have live music, food truck fare, greenhouse tours, aquaponic farming discussions, hayrides, lawn games and even a petting zoo – all for a suggested donation upon entry.
I always enjoy coming across people like Mike and Vanessa. Let’s hope they’re growing fresh and healthy food in Austin’s backyard for many years to come.
@mattchampionatx wants to know:
What do you think of Heart of Gold’s partnership with Capital Area Food Bank to provide fresh greens to those in need?