Urban farming has taken root in Houston, not far from the Houston Dash and Dynamo training facilities on the south end of town. For the Martin Luther King holiday last Monday, staff and players from the club volunteered at Hope Farms. “Doing the dirty work,” said Shea Groom with muddy sandbags in each hand.
Farm manager Noah Rattler explained the day’s significance to the volunteers who had braved a brisk 40-degree morning: “As everyone knows, Martin Luther King Day is not a day off; it was proposed to be a day of service honoring the legacy, not just of Martin Luther King, but of all the people he represented and all the people like him who are trying to push this country one step further towards its promise. Thank you for coming to this community and supporting our mission. Volunteer service is ultimately us looking out for each other.”
Volunteering usually means grunt labor for various unglamorous tasks — in this case, hauling sandbags, building a shelf to organize farm tools, assembling hoop houses, and maintaining the grounds. Completing these tedious jobs “helps our small (permanent) crew take a big step in just half a day,” Rattler said.
“We got our hands dirty,” laughed Dash defender Megan Montefusco (formerly Oyster). “We painted (planter) boxes to seal them off. It was fun to bring out our painting skills.” She looked over at her teammates who were brushing away intently. “We’re really competitive, so whoever can paint the most boxes is the winner today.”
Goalkeeper Lindsey Harris wore “six layers” to ward off the early morning cold. “Every day is a good day to help the community,” she said. “I’ve never actually gardened in my life,” she admitted, but her excitement was evident in shoes specially chosen for the day and in her jolly humor.
Groom, being from Kansas City, sometimes tells her coastal teammates that she’s a farm girl. But actually working on a farm or having a diet of local produce was not part of her youth. “I ate a lot of boxed food, which is not great nutrition. It’s been quite the journey for me, so this is special.”
Hope & Nutrition
Hope Farms has a market stand open at its Sunnyside location on Saturday mornings as well as the first Wednesday evening of each month. Situated at Airport Boulevard and Scott Street, it sits in a “food desert,” meaning that no stores in the immediate area offer healthy food options. Hope Farms also delivers farm shares, sells to local restaurants, and participates in food subsidy programs.
The Houston MLS/NWSL club has built mini-pitches in Cloverland Park, just down the road from the seven-acre farm. Dynamo legend and former Dash managing director Brian Ching has served on the board of Recipe for Success. Organization founder Gracie Cavnar was proud to say that “we have a long association with Dynamo and Dash.”
The Recipe for Success Foundation started a project at this site as part of its mission “of combatting childhood obesity with programs that teach, empower, and inspire healthy eating,” explained Cavnar. Aside from the food itself, their outreach programs include farmer training, specifically for military veterans, and education on nutrition for children.
Harris spoke to the importance of healthy eating for the soccer club. “We have a chef that sometimes makes our meals for us.”
“Chef J’La makes the best meals,” Groom confirmed. “We definitely get the freshest produce.”
“The food from the Dash is always healthy,” Harris said. “Then I go home and counter that with my own things,” she joked.
“If I had the knowledge, ability, and drive to have my own garden, to grow my own fresh food and eat it right of the vine, that would be awesome.” Harris’s thumb may not be any greener after hours spent laboring on farm infrastructure, but clearly the seed of the urban farming idea has already been planted in her mind.
“We’re out here for Martin Luther King Day,” said Montefusco. “He left an incredible legacy of service.”
“We represent the city of Houston on the field, and being present in the community (off the field) is important for us,” Groom stated. Being in Sunnyside was fitting on MLK Day. “It’s important to celebrate his life and the impact he had,” Groom said.
“Hope Farms does amazing work,” said Montefusco. “It’s an awesome place and I’m thankful for the opportunity today.”
Hope Farms invites volunteers to lend a hand. Register on their website.
Houston Dash preseason begins February 1, with the 2022 Challenge Cup kicking off on March 19. The regular season is set to begin in May.