In the aftermath of Winter Storm Uri, which left farmers across Texas facing devastating crop losses, Houston-based food security organization Common Market Texas has teamed up with chef Jose Andres’s culinary nonprofit World Central Kitchen to deliver more than 10,000 of boxes of fresh produce to underserved communities in Houston and beyond.
With locations in Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Houston, Common Market distributes fresh produce grown in the region by sustainable family farms in an effort to battle food insecurity in those communities. The partnership with World Central Kitchen, which primarily focuses on feeding people impacted by disasters, was a natural fit to help people get the food they need.
“What they do is deploy ground teams into disaster-struck areas and help people get food,” Margaret Smith, director of Common Market Texas, tells Eater of World Central Kitchen. “But they partnered with Common Market Texas, my organization, to add something on top of those hot meals and get families whole, fresh, local produce.”
Together, the two nonprofits will source fruits and veggies from about a dozen farms across central and southeast Texas, including contributions from Houston refugee farming collective Plant It Forward Farms and Fresh Life Organics, along with Gundermann Acres in Wharton County. Part of Common Market’s statewide network, these farms have offered to sell the kale, sweet potatoes, and winter citruses like oranges and grapefruit that weren’t destroyed by the winter storm to the organizations, making this a win-win prospect for both the farms and Houstonians in need of fresh food.
Selling these crops for the disaster relief produce box program also allows participating farms to clear their fields entirely, and focus on replanting for the upcoming spring and summer harvests. Those efforts, however, don’t require as many hands as full-fledged farming operations would, which means that Common Market Texas has offered work packing produce boxes to farm employees who would otherwise be out of a job due to the crisis.
“This is enabling farms like Gundermann Acres to really keep their farm workers engaged and getting them work,” Smith says, noting that she expects the organization’s output to increase dramatically in coming weeks. “I believe we’ll be distributing upwards of 15,000 or 20,000 boxes by the end of our partnership.”
Common Market Texas and World Central Kitchen have utilized a community-based approach to determine which families in particularly underserved communities need the most help in Houston, Galveston, and the Houston Ship Channel communities. The nonprofit partnership plans to expand its program in the coming days to Austin and San Antonio.
“Schools have been about half of our farm fresh box distribution sites,” Smith says. “The other half has been a really diverse array of churches, and we’ve worked with Lucille’s 1913 and chef Chris Williams to help with their distribution efforts. Hope Clinic was another really great one, and they have a really diverse network of clients that use their clinics.”
Throughout this entire disaster response, Common Market Texas has prioritized sourcing from minority-owned-and-operated farms in an effort to diversify the region’s supply chains.
“We know that the food system is riddled with racial injustice and we want to really play a role in building a more equitable food system for everybody,” Smith says.