By David Huebel
On a hot, dry day last August, I had the pleasure of working with a team of 11 Green Corn Project (GCP) volunteers to install a garden for Alba Alcauter in the southeast Austin neighborhood of Dove Springs. The volunteers were eight high-school seniors and three staff members from Breakthrough Austin, a nonprofit organization founded in 2001 to build pathways to college for low-income students who would be first-generation college graduates.
Alcauter grew up on a farm in Michoacán, Mexico, in a house built by her father that had two-foot-thick adobe walls made from local clay. She says it was always comfortable inside, no matter how hot or cold it was outside. She has fond memories of working and playing on the farm with her 13 brothers and sisters among the cows, horses, chickens, turkeys, vegetables and fruit trees, and she cries when she talks about her mother, who passed away two years ago. “I learned so much from her about how to eat the right foods to stay healthy,” she says.
After high school, Alcauter moved to California, and later to Austin, where she’s currently raising her son and daughter and trying to feed them as her mother taught her. She’s active in Go Austin/Vamos Austin (GAVA)—a coalition of Dove Springs residents, City of Austin agencies and several nonprofit organizations including the Sustainable Food Center, the Austin Project and Austin Interfaith, alongside community food partners like Urban Roots, Urban Patchwork Neighborhood Farms and GCP that are working together to bring better nutrition and healthier lifestyles to Dove Springs.
When Abby Ames, the associate director of College Completion and AmeriCorps for Breakthrough Austin, contacted GCP to see if we had a project for a team of high-school seniors, we thought building a garden for Alcauter might be the perfect experience. When I arrived at her home the morning of the dig-in, one of the students, Marquise Stampley, also a resident of Dove Springs, was already enjoying a cup of coffee with Alcauter and a neighbor. “I had never met Alba before, but she welcomed me into her home,” says Stampley. When the rest of the team arrived, we headed to the backyard where I had staked the four-by-twelve-foot area for the garden bed. Despite the August heat and the rather limited gardening experience of the volunteers, the crew eagerly went to work digging in the garden.
When I visited Alcauter’s garden a couple of weeks later, it was thriving. The basil—her favorite herb—was tall, and the seeds for squash, green beans and cucumbers had sprouted. The tomato plant was dark green and healthy. Alcauter says she’s ready for more beds so that she can grow lots of onions and garlic—two staples in her kitchen.
Hopefully this will be the first of many gardens in Dove Springs, and once the Breakthrough Austin students graduate from college, they’ll remember the experience and plant gardens of their own.