Montrose Urban Food Farm
Interview with Scott Howard of Montrose Urban Food Farm
What kind of farm are you? What do you grow and how do you grow it?
Scott Howard is the owner and primary farmer of the Montrose Urban Food Farm. It was a community garden for 15 years, during which he grew edible crops to donate to a soup kitchen, but has been a commercial farm for the last 5 years, ever since Scott started selling his produce. All produce on his farm is sustainably grown with organic growing practices. He makes his own compost and does not use city water for irrigation. Rather, he collects rain water because he wants to use what is given by nature. He grows a myriad of crops based on what’s in season in Houston. Right now, he is growing fall crops, such as kale, collards, cauliflower, lettuce, turnips, beets, carrots, and more.
How would you describe your connections to the community?
Scott sells his produce to the Central City Co-op, which was the first place in Houston where raw, organic food could be bought. Community members are able to subscribe to the Co-op and receive a half share or full share of organic fruits and vegetables on a weekly basis, which ends up costing less than the produce at a grocery store. Scott also opens up his farm every Saturday to local community members who want to help with planting or harvesting, and he has been an active volunteer at Urban Harvest for at least 15 years. Furthermore, he is involved with food policy through his role on the executive committee of the Houston Food System Collaborative, a food policy group through the Houston Food Bank.
How have you been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Fortunately, Scott’s farm has not been impacted negatively by the COVID-19 pandemic. There has been a huge surge in people who want access to fresh, local food without having to go to the grocery store. Before the pandemic really hit Houston, the Central City Co-op was selling about 50 orders a week of local produce. Almost overnight, after the pandemic really hit, the Co-op started selling about 175 orders a week. Scott sells everything he grows; he just wishes he had more land to grow more crops for his local community!
What would you like the local community to know about your farm? What can the local community do to support your farm?
Scott wants his community to appreciate the importance of fresh, edible crops that are grown organically. His crops are harvested, sold, and end up on people’s kitchen tables no more than 3 days from when they were harvested. On the other hand, produce from the grocery store often has been transported for weeks across the country and therefore lacks the nutritional value that local farms provide. Scott has been happy to see more people at local farmer’s markets and co-ops because it means they are learning to cook or already knowledgeable about cooking and are choosing to eat food with high nutritional values.
He also emphasizes the difficulty in farming in an urban setting, as there are space, sunlight, and other limitations to growing his crops. It is not easy to grow food in this prohibitive setting, but he finds this work very worthwhile due to all the nutrient-dense produce he is able to reap and due to the fact that his farm is a rare green space in the city for his local community.
How did you get into farming? What do you like or love about being a farmer?
Scott comes from a farming family in central Texas that works with commodity crops, such as corn and cotton, rather than edible crops. His family moved to Houston years ago, and his mother did not want him to work on a farm; however, he always had an appreciation for the work of farmers and was very passionate about growing edible crops. As a result, he started doing home gardening about 30 years ago, and then created his community garden 20 years ago. He grew as much food as he could on the little amount of land that he had for 15 years and then turned it into a commercial farm 5 years ago.
Scott loves farming because it has kept him busy since he retired, and he loves being out in nature, getting in touch with the natural environment. He is very interested in learning about ecological systems, especially those located in cities, due to their relevance to today’s environmental issues, such as climate change. He thinks focusing on sustainable agriculture is very critical right now because it is one of the most accessible solutions to climate change: it puts more oxygen back in the atmosphere and sequesters carbon as well. Current agricultural practices emit a lot of carbon, so it is imperative that we rethink how the industry functions.