Texan by Nature is partnering with NRG Energy to build a garden on the site of their former lignite coal mine near Jewett, Texas. An initial one acre plot is currently under construction, with the opportunity for the garden to expand up to 10 acres. Upon completion, the NRG Dewey Prairie Garden will provide up to 10,000 pounds of fresh produce annually to local community food pantries.
We recently asked the NRG Dewey Prairie Garden team about the history of the site and their vision for the future of this unique reclamation project.
Tell us a little about the history of the Jewett mine and the reclamation process.
NRG: Mining along the lignite belt running across the middle of Texas goes back to the early 1900s. In 1979, Houston Lighting and Power obtained rights for 15 miles of the coal belt near Jewett for a 35-year supply. After that, NRG in 2020 purchased the mine and assumed responsibility for reclamation efforts with the goal of restoring the land to a better condition than before mining started.
In 2013 the Jewett Mine site was awarded the coveted Texas Lone Star Land Steward Award for reclamation activities at the site. Reclamation accomplishments at the mine include planting 3,500 acres of native bunch-grasses and constructing 700 acres of wetlands. Use of new technologies, software and specialized equipment is helping with stream reclamation that mimics natural processes.
TxN: We first visited the Jewett Mine site in fall 2019. We’re quite familiar with rural Texas, but we weren’t sure what to expect of this site given the images you typically see of mining operations. We were blown away by the pristine beauty of the reclamation site. For miles in all directions, all we saw was native prairie grasses waving in the breeze. We had the opportunity to meet with many mine and NRG team members who were passionate about the land, community, and best sustainable options for their operations and reclamation. It was obvious during these discussions that this attention to impact and environmental concern were entrenched in the culture and had been in place for many, many years.
What was the inspiration for the garden and how did it come to be?
NRG: An NRG board member was familiar with Texan By Nature’s mission and noticed how well it aligned with the mission of NRG’s philanthropic arm, positiveNRG. We began working together, and the planning firmed up for what became the garden. A reclaimed section of the Jewett mine was a perfect way to bring the idea to life.
positiveNRG is a central part of our identity – enabling partnering with change-making non-profits like Texan By Nature to positively contribute to the places where we live and serve.
TxN: We had the wonderful opportunity to get to know one of the NRG board members at a dinner. He talked about how they wanted to take the reclamation of the mine site to the next level and do something more for the community. He asked if we had any ideas. Our team took the question and did a lot of research on the area. We ended up discovering that the food insecurity rate in the area was 50% higher than the national average and the soil and climate is near perfect for growing many fruits and vegetables. After consulting with a few TxN partners, we put a proposal together and outlined a plan for a garden to serve the food pantries in the tri-county area. The more conversations we had, the more excited we became with the vision for the garden and working with positiveNRG to bring the garden to reality.
How does the project fit in with other sustainability projects that NRG is doing?
NRG: NRG’s sustainability efforts are wide-ranging – from our employee groups who volunteer countless hours for community efforts to the Dewey Garden to financial goals tied our sustainability efforts. The Dewey Garden effort was a perfect fit.
TxN: From our perspective and knowledge of NRG, it’s a perfect fit. The passion for sustainability and community is obvious in every conversation we have with NRG team members. From knowing the history of the community to sourcing the project locally to reusing materials from the reclamation in the garden construction efforts, the project implementation has been seamless with the NRG team.
What is your hope and vision for the future of the garden?
NRG: In this project, the goal is to provide fresh and nutritious produce in a food desert and create a supply for local area food banks. Our goal is to be resilient; to look to the long game. When we refer to sustainability, we want to invest in projects that help people thrive so that we can all achieve our highest potential. The Dewey Garden and Texan By Nature are exactly what we need to assure that hope and vision continues for a long, long time.
TxN: First and foremost we want to work with the fertile land in the Jewett area to provide consistent, fresh, nutritious produce for this community. We also want the garden to serve as an example of collaboration between industry, community, conservation, and education. One that inspires others to look at their resources and operations and dream of new ways to create long term positive impact.
Learn more about the NRG Dewey Prairie Garden on the garden project page.