Campus Kitchen’s community garden helps feed Waco

Jessica Hubble | Lariat Photographer The Baylor Community Garden at the corner of James Avenue and Ninth Street

By Holly Luttrell | Reporter

Tucked in the corner of James Avenue and Ninth Street, the Baylor Community Garden houses crops that are grown and harvested for philanthropic organizations around Waco.

The garden is run by Campus Kitchen, and group which was established in 2008 as part of the Baylor Interdisciplinary Poverty Initiative (BIPI). Under this program, four garden managers oversee the site, tending to the plants with the help of volunteers from on and off campus who show up to lend a hand.

“We try to get volunteers out here to help us,” garden manager Madison Stewart said. “We’ve partnered with the football team before, the nutrition department, and with leadership classes who try to get classes out here to volunteer. We have some people who volunteer regularly, but it changes every semester.”

Workers in the garden help by pulling weeds, creating compost, watering plants and harvesting crops. The food grown in the garden is the product of a caring community. Baylor students, faculty and residents of Waco all pitch in to support the Campus Kitchen project that feeds numerous underprivileged individuals in the city.

The garden features several long wooden planters lined side by side for the length of the property. These containers are sprawling with the wide variety of produce grown at the site. Tomatoes, okra, peppers, zucchini squash, watermelon and herbs such as lavender and lemon grass are a handful of the plants that can be found there.

Once the crops are grown and harvested, they are ready for distribution. The produce is sent to the organization’s kitchen in Penland Dining Hall, where it is prepared to be sent to partnering philanthropies.

“Our kitchen managers will see the ingredients that we’ve brought them and combine them with their own to cook a large, healthy meal in bulk that we take to one of our partners, which is the Waco Family Abuse Center, Mission Waco’s after school care program, and The Cove for homeless youth,” Stewart said.

According to the Campus Kitchen website, over 18,000 fresh and nutritious meals were distributed in 2016 with the food collected from the garden and from Baylor dining halls. Any food that is not included in the meals prepared in the kitchen is sent to the Salvation Army. One way or another, viable crops from the Baylor Community Garden reach people living a city with little access to fresh produce, which is referred to as a food desert.

“We just want to provide very healthy and nutritious food for people in the community of Waco,” garden manager Tyler Taba said. “Waco is a big food desert so we know a lot of kids and families in low-income areas have a hard time finding access to some of these healthy foods, so the overall goal in the garden is grow as much healthy food as we can.”

The food grown in the garden is a renewable resource. After a crop is harvested and donated, a new plant is grown to take its place. The sustainability of the community garden makes it a valuable tool in serving local philanthropies.

Campus Kitchen maintains this community gardening program not only as a way to serve those in need, but as an educational tool for visitors as well. Volunteers who enter the garden are taught about the plants they are working with.

As these workers care for the crops, they learn about the food they are tending to, how it grows and why fresh, organic produce is important to maintaining a balanced diet.

“We like to educate everyone who comes in here,” Stewart said. “Whenever we have any volunteer out here, we’re teaching them about nutrition from the roots up.”

The purpose of the community garden is service, both in educating the volunteers who maintain it and feeding recipients of the food grown there. It is a small part of Baylor that has a large impact on the communities it reaches.