Monday, November 30, 2015

Green Treasure Found: Finca Tres Robles

Fresh Produce grown by Finca Tres Robles; head out to their farmer's market!
A few weeks ago, I discovered a treasure on Houston’s East Side:  Finca Tres Robles; Finca Tres Robles is Houston's first private farm within the 610 loop. To get there, you drive past several warehouses and other industrial properties (and think you are lost 5 times) before finding a secret garden. Seriously, it looks as though the stunning 1.25 acre lot was just walled off and then given much love from an army of garden gnomes. I had the pleasure to sit down with one of the Farm's founders Tommy Garcia-Prats a native Houstonian who decided to return home after years of working on various farms around the world (including a small family owned farm in Maine, a larger vegetable farm in Iowa, and a large agro-forestry and educational farm in Nicaragua).  

Apprentice working in Garden
After many years away, Tommy returned to Houston to discover a huge new foodie community but noticed diet related health issues, especially in children. Tommy was also surprised to find that Houston only has a handful of farms for 4 million people. (As a comparison, in Maine, there are 350 organic farms for 1 million people.) He wanted to live in a city with farms and agriculture, so with great initiative, he decided to start his own. 

The garden didn’t just happen over night. Tommy spent 6 months just talking and asking questions, going to local organizations for help, more research, and looking for a plot of land in a part of the city where land would be affordable and also where a garden would be the most beneficial. Once he found the perfect plot of land, he had to have the soil tested and start a sustainable business plan. The result?  An Oasis in Houston’s east side.  Finca Tres Robles was recently awarded a Young Farmer’s Grant from the Texas Department of Agriculture which enabled them to hire an apprentice and support improvement projects around the farm; currently, there are 2 interns/apprentices and 5 volunteers on the farm.

Before working on the farms in Maine, Iowa, and Nicaragua, Tommy had no previous gardening experience, so he had no preconceived notion of what a farm was supposed to be like.  In fact, most people with whom he worked had never worked in farming. Tommy recalls, “I went to each farm just wanting to learn where my food comes from – without knowing that I would later open a farm of my own.” When asked what advice he would be give to those who want to grow a small garden of their own, Tommy laughs and replies, “People think that if they kill plants that they’re not a good gardener.  I’ve killed more plants – You just have to keep trying. Shifts in weather, pests, and difficult places to grow (Houston) will all affect your garden.”

Tommy hopes that Finca Tres Robles will help show Houstonians that agriculture is sustainable and belongs inside a city. I, for one, would love to see the project expanded to other parts of Houston. So support your local farm and head out to Finca Tres Robles to discover what a little imagination, a lot of hard work, and an overwhelming love for nature and your community can create. You can visit the farm during their open hours listed here or donate to the farm here.

+++++Volunteer Days and other events are listed on Finca Tres Robles website; so keep an eye out for their changing schedule. You can receive a small discount on fresh produce for volunteering or for donating your compost (yard leaves included).

+++++A cool fact about the garden: the soil is created from raw tree trimmings. The layer underneath is clay which is no good for growing.

VISIT the finca! View the location and the Hours here.

Buy local at the Farmer’s Market:

On the Farm Market :
SAT  9-1PM

(Finca Tres Robles
257 N. Greenwood
Houston, TX 77011):

East End St. Market:
10AM – 2PM

(Navigation Esplanade
2800 Navigation Blvd.
Houston, TX 77003)

One of my favorite new places in Houston.
Until our next green adventure, 
The Bayou Botanist 

Jungle Studio

We need the tonic of wildness...At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.

― Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods

It may be winter in Texas but my studio is in full jungle swing.  When I'm stuck indoors, I like to make sure that my space feels like a greenhouse (with books to journey to faraway places and textiles from around the world to add a dash of bold color and pattern).

View from the Jungle Studio; Studies for Tapestries
Never too many books about Artists, Gardens, Textiles, and Folklore

Only a few more* (1000) plants to go. . .
 Sneak peak to come of new works for "The Bayou Botanist." Get your green on!

The Bayou Botanist

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Find your creative side in Smither Park

If you want to add a little whimsy to your life, take a trip to Smither Park. What makes it so special? Highly complicated mosaic walls, a grotto in the form of fish jaws, comfy bench swings, an interactive tower, and a covered "tree-house"pavilion.  Located in Houston's East End, the recreational green space is ever evolving with over 60 mosaics made by artists (both trained and untrained) from across the US and plans for new additions always in the works. Visionary artist and builder Dan Phillips is lead designer on the project. Under the umbrella of the Orange Show Center for the Visionary Art, Smither Park is Houston's first "folk art inspired green space" and is also Houston's first sculpture garden made from all recycled materials. The Park is named in honor of the incredible arts supporter John H. Smither.  You can read more about Smither Park here.  
If you're interested in contributing to the mosaics in the Park, read more about the call for entry section here.

"The  Memory Wall" is a 400 foot mosaic wall that spans the length of the park; On the right is "The Tree of Life" created by Houston artist Debbie Wetmore.

Creatives hard at work putting the finishing touches on the Marilyn Oshman Meditation Garden. Such a beautiful place to take a break from our busy lives.
Mosaic Artists use a vast array of materials from ceramic and pottery shards, to keys, glass, and license plates.

A section of the Memory Wall designed by John Gregory

The Bench Swings: Looks like the perfect place to spend a lazy afternoon

The Lindley Fish created by Matt Gifford resembles a fish mouth chomping through the grass; made from frame samples, street signs, and mirror shards, the grotto is used for performances throughout the year.

The hypnotic insides of the grotto

A detail from a Mosaic "The Garden" designed by Esther Lee and completed with help from her family

While you're in the neighborhood, stop by the Orange Show just two blocks down. A playful architectural maze, the Orange Show was created by former postman Jeff McKissack "in honor of his favorite fruit." He worked on the Orange Show between 1956 until his death in 1980 - never fully accepting the title of "artist." You can read more about the Orange Show here.


A view from one of the many upper balconies

A play boat rests in the middle of the maze
Beautiful Quotes and Proverbs (such as the one above) cover many of the Orange Show's walls

 Thank you, Texas. You are always full of surprises.

Until the next adventure,

- The Bayou Botanist

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