Tackling Food Insecurity:

From Garden to Food Pantry

According to the USDA and Feeding America, the three-county area surrounding Jewett is a food desert, with many residents living over 10 miles from the nearest grocery store. Food insecurity rates here are an estimated 51% higher than the national average. Texan by Nature is partnering with NRG Energy to build a garden to address food insecurity in the Leon, Freestone, Limestone tri-county area.

The garden is located at the NRG Energy lignite mine reclamation project near Jewett, Texas. An initial one acre plot that includes row crops, raised beds, and butterfly gardens is currently under construction and will provide produce to local food pantries, supplying healthy food for up to an estimated 3,000 people every year.

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 spoke with a few of the local food pantries to better understand the needs and community impact the garden will have on the three counties.

Q: Tell us a little your organization.

Oakwood Community Food Pantry– This food pantry started in 2013. We were serving a few clients; most of our clients are senior citizens. We have progressed through the years and our numbers are growing. During the height of the pandemic, our numbers almost tripled. We are housed in the old Dunbar School. The Dunbar Alumni allows us to use the building at no cost to us. Many of our clients are also volunteers which helps a great bit. Our board is very active and meets monthly. Our board members also serve as volunteers.

The Lord’s Pantry of Leon County– This food pantry was started by a group of area churches in 1995 & has recently expanded in order to be able to offer clients choice of food products & the ability to store more food on-site. We currently have 50 volunteers & serve the community 2 days a week.

NRG Garden Glass

Q: Tell us a little about the Leon, Freestone, Limestone tri-county area around the garden.

It is beautiful country, with most of the land devoted to agriculture. Towns are small and life moves at a comfortable pace. However, the down side of this pastoral lifestyle is the limited opportunities for employment, limited commerce, and limited healthcare.

“Statistics show that Leon, Limestone, and Freestone Counties are three of the least healthy counties in the state, with high obesity and diabetes numbers. Being able to offer fresh fruits and vegetables on a regular basis will help our clients make choices for better health.”

–Kristy Vandegriff from the Leon Community Food Pantry and Clothes Closet in Jewett, Texas.

Q: What food and grocery options are available to residents in the area?

Oakwood Community Food Pantry– We are a very rural area, with no “big-box stores” in Leon County. There is only one chain grocery in our county. Many people here rely on dollar stores for many of their food purchases, so fresh vegetables are often absent from their shopping list.

The Lord’s Pantry of Leon County– In our city of Buffalo, TX, there is a Brookshire Bros Grocery store, a gas station convenience store & our pantry. The Leon Food pantry is 15 miles from Buffalo and the Oakwood Food pantry is 25 miles from Buffalo.

Q: How do residents rely on area food pantries and what do you provide to them?

Oakwood Community Food Pantry– We provide a quantity of food equivalent to about a week’s worth of groceries for two people. We provide dry and canned non perishable items, frozen foods, bread, and one vegetable item to our clients.

The Lord’s Pantry of Leon County-To supplement the food our residents are able to buy, we provide a choice of protein(meats), canned vegetables & fruits, cereals, pasta/rice/flour/beans, toiletries & laundry detergents.

Q: How will the garden affect the fresh produce you can deliver to residents?

Oakwood Community Food Pantry– It will provide residents with farm fresh vegetables. We hope it will also create a greater variety in what we can provide.

The Lord’s Pantry of Leon County– It would greatly benefit the health of our community. Our Pantry does not offer fresh produce at this time.

“Most of our clients are unable to regularly buy fresh fruits and vegetables, due to the cost. Thanks to the support of NRG and Texan by Nature, the garden will be a true blessing for all of us.”

–Kathleen Buchanan of The Lord’s Pantry of Leon County.

NRG Dewey Prairie Garden Carrot

Q: What types of fruits and vegetables are in highest demand in your community?

Potatoes, beans/peas, green leafy vegetables, onions, carrots, peppers, peaches, plums, pears, oranges, strawberries, blueberries

Q: What are you most looking forward to about the garden?

Being able to provide the clients with farm fresh, quality local produce, and hopefully work towards improving the health of our clients.

Q: Are residents aware of the garden, and what do they think about it?

Oakwood Community Food Pantry– Most are not, but we hope that as the garden progresses more residents will get excited about it.

The Lord’s Pantry of Leon County– Yes!! There is a lot of excitement & anticipation.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

There has been a lot of community interest in volunteering to help with the harvesting & delivering of the produce.

The NRG Dewey Prairie Garden is set to open Spring 2022! Sign up for the newsletter below, to keep up to date on all garden progress. Learn more about the NRG Dewey Prairie Garden and the unique partnership of TxN here: https://texanbynature.org/projects/nrg-dewey-prairie-garden/