Ceremonial shovels broke ground on five acres along Farm-to-Market Road 2868 in Flint Friday morning where local community leaders hope to plant, grow and harvest food for the hungry.
The second East Texas Food Bank Garden, a five-acre unused plot owned by Flint Baptist Church, will add to a 3-year-old cooperative program that has delivered more than 200,000 pounds of produce or more than 150,000 meals for those in need.
The East Texas Food Bank, Smith County Sheriff's Office, the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension have teamed with Flint Baptist Church to double the gardening capacity to grow fresh produce for thousands of East Texans.
Dennis Cullinane, executive director of the food bank, said more than 183,000 residents in 26 East Texas counties utilize the food bank. He said the fledgling program has experienced remarkable success since it began in 2010.
"We're hearing that lines (at food banks) aren't getting shorter," he said. "The economy is still stagnant for a lot of people. It's an important program for us (as a service provider) because it's the right food."
Cullinane said growing produce for the food bank locally reduces shipping costs on already expensive foodstuffs. He said the eventual doubling of capacity would make a big difference for many residents who face hunger.
First Baptist Church Pastor Sam DeVille said he and his congregation couldn't be more excited to participate in the program. The church purchased around 20 acres of land, which has gone unused.
"It's a wonderful idea," he said. "We're blessed to be involved. The fact that this field will provide fresh produce and allow us to be directly involved in feeding hungry people in our community is an honor."
DeVille prayed over the land, that it would produce bountiful results and reach those in need.
Ashley Pellerin, an extension agent in charge of Cooperative Extension Programs, will direct preparation of the land. The agriculture extension will provide technical support, such as taking soil samples, preparing the land, directing crop rotation and post-harvest cover crops.
"Smith County has approximately five USDA designated food deserts, and these gardens help alleviate pressure on those people," she said. "This garden means more produce so that is a blessing."
Food deserts are areas where affordable healthy food, such as fresh produce, is difficult to obtain or unavailable.
Sheriff Larry Smith said he is pleased to continue and expand former Sheriff J.B. Smith's program, which provides inmate labor and volunteers from within the department to maintain the garden.
During the last growing season, inmates grew peas, potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants and other vegetables.
"It is a win-win for everyone involved," he said. "It's a community effort. Everyone from the food bank, the church, the inmates, our department all think it's a worthy effort for the community.