Shannon Kemp and Dayna Conner founded Green Corn Project in July 1998. Their goal then is the same goal leading our organization today: to educate and assist Central Texans in building organic food gardens so that they can have access to nutritious, affordable food.
Kemp selected the name Green Corn Project to honor a Creek Indian celebration, the Green Corn Festival. The festival is held when the first green shoots of corn appear after planting and celebrates the emergence of new life after a long winter. The purpose of this ceremony is to thank the spirits for the renewed hope of a good crop that will feed the tribe through the coming year.
Since Green Corn Project volunteers first dug vegetable beds in an East Austin community garden, GCP has sought to expand its efforts each season. The first Dig-Ins were held in spring only. We added fall Dig-Ins so that gardeners could grow their own food year-round. (In Austin the hot, dry summers actually make fall and winter the easier growing season.)
In 2003 Green Corn Project reached out to Habitat for Humanity, offering gardens to their homeowners. Since then GCP has installed more than 25 gardens at Habitat homes. For many recipients, the vegetable garden is the final piece that makes their house a home.
In 2005 we began installing gardens at elementary schools in underserved areas. Teachers use the gardens as educational tools. “We write about our plants, read books about gardening and plants, and study seed germination,” explains Eva Rosenthal, who teaches at Metz Elementary, site of GCP’s first school garden. “We talk about what plants need to live, what animals need to live, and how those needs are interdependent. The students become ambassadors for fresh vegetables and often end up leading their parents into produce sections of their grocery stores.
In 2007 Green Corn Project launched its Seeds to Starts program, workshops where volunteers sow the seeds that will be used in our gardens. Growing our own plants ensures that we can control what kind of seeds are used (open-pollinated), and how those seeds are treated. We still rely on generous donations from local nurseries for some plants and seeds.