By Becca Smith
Community Garden Coordinator, Tarrant Area Food Bank

Early in the morning on Saturday, July 16, the UNT Health Science Center (UNTHSC) campus was buzzing with energy as Tarrant Area Food Bank (TAFB) and UNTHSC staff, volunteers, presenters and vendors set up tables, hooked up computers and placed centerpieces. While planning had been underway for several months already, the final details were all coming together for this year’s Dig Deep: A Conference for Growers. It was a gorgeous, sunny morning in Fort Worth only made brighter by the smiles of participants as they entered UNTHSC’s MET building ready for the day ahead.

Growers from all over North Texas arrived and began their day by visiting vendor tables occupied by a variety of organizations, including Keep Fort Worth Beautiful, Silver Creek Materials, Tarrant County Food Policy Council, North Texas Food Bank and Volunteer Now. Everyone mingled, greeted old friends and began making new acquaintances. The energy of this group continued as Micheline Hynes (TAFB) and Sandy Bauman (UNTHSC) spoke during the welcome, while coffee and pastries were enjoyed.

After the welcome address, attendees dispersed for morning breakout sessions. Each session had a different topic to choose from within the different tracks: community gardening, urban farming and homesteading. Some sessions discussed classic gardening topics like seed starting and rainwater harvesting. Others were more thought-provoking and abstract like “Farming the Sprawl: Making the Most of Your Backyard” and “Organic Recycling: Secrets to a Sustainable Texas.” The morning sessions flowed effortlessly as attendees acquired new knowledge to help them become better growers for our community.

The bubbling energy of the day continued into lunch where participants enjoyed a garden-fresh lunch provided by chef and Cooking Matters® volunteer, John Croatti, with the help of his daughter. Feedback from past TAFB events has indicated that attendees wanted more vegetarian and vegan options along with more sustainably sourced utensils, plates and napkins. John came up with a delicious menu that accommodated our request. He served a variety of cold salads including a Mediterranean green bean and potato salad as well as Israeli couscous with cucumber, tomato, mint and feta.

Lunch served at Dig Deep: A Conference for Growers

John was able to use about 20 pounds of produce from TAFB’s Learning Garden and other produce sourced from area farmers and growers. UNTHSC was able to provide the sustainably sourced table settings to go along with this fantastic menu. It was a beautiful representation of the passion that brought many attendees to the conference in the first place.

The conference continued into the afternoon with hands-on sessions about building raised beds and installing drip bucket irrigation systems. Some attended sessions focusing on food justice and food systems in Fort Worth as well as how to get the children in our community involved in growing healthy, fresh produce. The day ended with two very popular topics among this population: “Permaculture and Soil Food Web” and “Organic Integrated Pest Management.” The sessions remained packed through the end of the conference and even continued after the scheduled ending time.

Dig Deep: A Conference for Growers was inspiring and motivating, at the very least. After months of planning, organizing and preparing, I think that most left the conference feeling hopeful and motivated that they can continue to produce nutritious food and make a positive impact on our community. That, together, we can empower each other and those around us to make our cities and neighborhoods healthier and stronger.

Now that the conference is over, we can get back to the normal routine. The opportunities for growth and education are always around us – at community garden workdays, gardening workshops and even in our own backyard gardens. Thank you to everyone who made this year’s Dig Deep a success. We look forward to another great conference next year.

We would love to have you join us for an upcoming workday or workshop at the TAFB Learning Garden. To register for a TAFB Learning Garden workday, visit our Volunteer page. Learn more about upcoming garden workshops on our Eventbrite page.

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