Our Mission: To educate and assist Central Texans in growing organic food gardens
Our Vision: That Central Texans have nutritious, affordable food grown in ways that conserve natural resources, promote self-reliance, and strengthen communities.
Green Corn Project (GCP) is a grassroots, volunteer-run organization dedicated to helping Central Texans in need grow their own organic vegetables. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit, GCP installs organic food gardens for elderly, low-income, and disabled community members as well as for elementary schools, community centers, and shelters in underserved areas of Austin. We turn unused land into garden beds that provide food, education, and a sense of accomplishment and pride for all involved in their creation and maintenance.
Since 1998 GCP has helped more than 160 gardeners and their families claim—or reclaim—their gardening dreams. Our goal is to create lifelong gardeners, so we actively support our gardeners for two years through four growing seasons. Because we return to refurbish those beds for a total of four seasons, we have actually planted more than 640 seasonal gardens.
GCP’s gardens have at their root good soil. On Dig-In days during weekends in March and September/October, volunteers double dig new garden beds alongside garden recipients. Double digging is a labor-intensive method of loosening and aerating the soil that allows roots to grow deeper and access water more easily. A team of five-to-six volunteers can double dig a 4 by 12 foot garden in about four hours. For many of our garden recipients, this initial soil preparation, along with the cost of supplies and tools, would prevent them from gardening in our chemical-free, bio-intensive way.
Double-digging is just one part of the bio-intensive method that GCP employs. This method also includes the use of compost, hexagonal spacing of plants, and companion planting—placing plants that grow well together near each other. It creates gardens that yield large harvests in small spaces. The bio-intensive method also requires less maintenance and water than traditionally dug gardens. We use only organic materials, provide our gardeners with organic pest control recipes, and advise them to not use chemical fertilizers or herbicides.
For family and individual gardeners, GCP volunteers help the garden recipients plant the starter vegetables and seeds. For school gardens, volunteers double dig the bed, add compost, and then leave plants and seeds for the teachers to plant with their students.
During the growing season, gardeners maintain the bed, watering, weeding, and the best task of all—harvesting. GCP volunteer mentors offer advice and support to the gardeners, helping to ensure that their garden is a success.
After the initial Dig-In, volunteers return the next season and refurbish the bed. They add more compost and plant starter vegetables and seeds for that season.
After the two-year period of active support, GCP continues to provide compost, seeds, and plants to gardeners who have gained enough experience to garden independently. Many of these gardeners, like Maria Ana Guevera, then mentor other gardeners and help them experience the joys of growing their own fresh organic vegetables. “The vegetables in the store look pretty, but we don't know where they come from,” she says. “When you grow your own, they go from the garden, to the kitchen, to the table. It's fresh.”
Why do we use the bio-intensive method?
First and foremost, it’s successful. More than 80 percent of our gardeners continue to garden for two years and beyond. We are constantly improving and testing our methods to make sure that our gardeners succeed. We also employ the bio-intensive method because it’s inexpensive. Relying on volunteer labor and hand tools, instead of renting or buying expensive tillers, we can help more people achieve their dream of fresh organic produce just outside their door. Our method is also safe for the environment. The only input we use is compost. A gardener’s existing soil improves over time as it is worked and more compost is added each growing season. Double-digging and intensive planting reduce the amount of water needed for the garden.
Green Corn Project's vision is all about sustainability: helping people feed themselves in ways that conserve natural resources, promote self-reliance, and strengthen communities. On a day-to-day basis, the goal is more immediate. As gardener Lydia Cruz, whose husband has early-onset Parkinson’s disease, explains: “We are so appreciative of the garden. We will be able to grow things that we can't ordinarily buy.”