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West Texas nonprofit aims to bring neighborhoods together through a labor of love (and food)

Growing Garden Cities, Inc., is a new organization dedicated to planting community fruit and vegetable gardens in high-need areas.
Credit: GGC

SAN ANGELO, Texas — Like every city across the country, San Angelo has its share of vacant lots, especially in low-income areas. Empty, colorless, weed-choked sections of earth that somehow look just as manmade as the dilapidated structures that often bookend them.

Most of us drive by every day without even noticing them, or just give a glance to briefly wonder what—if anything—might eventually be built on them.

Local nonprofit Growing Garden Cities Inc. is more interested in what might be built out of them.

“The idea behind the name of Growing Garden Cities is to create a little garden city, a safe community in these neighborhoods where people can come along beside one another,” GGC founder Julie Holt said. “There’s ownership to it. There’s accountability to it. We want to help people grow and realize that there is potential. We work together and we get to love thy neighbor, which right now I think we all could use.”

Before GGC became a full-time project late last summer, Holt was the director of communications and programs at Concho Valley Food Bank.

“I loved what I got to do, but I just kept getting called into ‘There’s more, there’s more I’m supposed to be doing,’ So I just listened and here we are. When this came about, everyone else thought I was insane. Because I can’t keep succulents alive,” Holt laughed. “But I’ve been blessed with a husband that is a good gardener, and a board of directors that are amazing gardeners.”

She’s not kidding about the potential. Studies in other cities have shown community gardens to promote nutrition and social development as well as raise neighboring property value, just to name a few of the benefits.

Holt said she’s also looking forward to building a relationship with the City and school district as well.

“We would love to see school children and families involved, even if that means going into school areas. Teachers are strapped as it is, we’re not asking them to take on any more. But even if it just means going into these schools and doing little raised-bed gardens, we’re looking forward to doing that, too.”

Three lots have been secured so far, and Holt said two of them are scheduled to plant in March.

“Tomatoes, peppers, squash, zucchini, corn… we’re looking at throwing in cantaloupe, we’re also looking at two apple trees for each location. And of course we’ll have flowers and various other things for cross-pollination.”

For businesses or volunteers looking to get involved, or landowners who might like to lend a vacant lot, Holt said with the group's website still being built, Facebook is the easiest way to contact them.

“We’re all volunteer-based right now, there’s no employees, so you’re gonna hear back from one of us soon,” Holt said. “Because we are excited. And we’re just getting started.”