Austin is blessed with a number of talented gardeners who regularly volunteer their time at and share their knowledge with school and community gardens. This Sunday, June 7th, from 11am-2pm, SFC’s Grow Local gardening program will celebrate three of these gardeners at its Spring Local Food Fair and Seed Swap. Nominated by community members who have seen these volunteers in action, all three gardeners have made impressive contributions to Austin’s local food communities by launching, reviving, maintaining and coordinating school and community gardens around town. We invite you to read their stories below and to join us on Sunday as we thank them for their support and generosity.
Austin’s Outstanding Gardeners
William Glass, NYOS Charter School
William Glass is part of a farm and ranching family that has worked the soil in the Austin area for well over a century. His family has grown food for themselves and to sell at local markets. They also raised grass-fed beef, which ranged the pecan bottomlands and fed both relatives and the community.
In the early 70s, William volunteered with the vocational program at Travis State School, where he helped manage the greenhouse, orchard, and worm beds. He also planted a school garden at Zavala Elementary School. In the 80s and 90s, he helped establish the Wells Branch Community Garden as well as the county's first curbside yard-waste composting program. As community administrator, he co-developed many parks facilities and co-managed the riparian restoration of a portion of the Walnut Creek Basin, giving the neighborhood a biodiverse environment rich in recreational opportunities.
Today, William maintains a small organic garden, greenhouse, a demonstration xeriscape landscape,and a flock of chickens. He also leads volunteers in ongoing efforts to restore Walnut Creek’s riparian zones, and he helps organize the annual NXNA Garden Tour, a tour of North Austin gardens that features local artists. A grandparent of one of the students at NYOS Charter School, William has facilitated the construction of a school garden, installed an irrigation system, built a grapevine trellis, led gardening classes at NYOS’ afterschool program, organized family workdays, and helped the school connect with community partners in order to secure garden donations and assistance. His work has inspired students, staff, and parents to work in the garden and experience the benefits of growing their own food.
According to William, he volunteers for one simple reason: to nurture the abundant life of his community.
Pat Hochstetler, Windsor Park Community Garden
Pat Hochstetler grew up on a farm in northern Indiana, where her family had an organic vegetable garden. Each spring, her father would plow the garden, her mother would till it, and she and her sisters would plant and tend to the beds. The girls would also help harvest the produce, much of which their mother preserved by canning tomatoes and green beans and by freezing sweet corn.
As an adult, Pat took a break from food gardening. Around 2008, the pastor of her church relocated to Iraq to serve with a Christian Peacemakers Team. He left behind raised beds filled with tomatoes, which he grew for his congregation, and turnips, which he grew for himself. Pat began tending the beds and shortly thereafter became the liaison between the church and Windsor Park Community Garden, which is located on church property. A few years later, she added additional beds to the garden, which she began cultivating with help from children at a nearby Child Development Center.
Today, Pat has taken on the huge task of coordinating Windsor Park Community Garden. She continues working with the Child Development Center so that neighborhood children can grow their own food, and she led efforts to establish communal plots in a 25-foot square space and in small raised beds along the garden fence so that low-income residents can benefit from garden harvests. This spring, she led a group of volunteers from the University of Pennsylvania who had come to Austin as part of Alternative Spring Break, a program that connects high school and college students to community improvement projects. The volunteers worked for five days fixing fences, sheet mulching the sticker grass, making paths, and much more.
What Pat likes most about food gardening is eating the fresh produce she has grown and watching children learn where food comes home and how good fresh produce tastes. Believe it or not, her favorite garden activity is weeding. This spring, coordinating the community garden’s peach harvest will keep her busy as will planting the communal plots with pumpkins, which she hopes to share with the community come October.
Donna Hoffman, Blackshear Elementary School
A Corpus Christi native, Donna Hoffman started gardening in the 1980s. One Saturday morning, she was listening to the Folkways program on KUT radio station, when she heard Pete Seeger sing a cover of David Mallet’s, “Inch by Inch,” a song about food gardening. Soon after, Donna tilled up her front yard on Avenue D and 43rd Street and started a vegetable garden.
Though new to gardening, she had a good role model: her father. A talented cook and gardener, John Hoffman was known for preparing fabulous feasts of flounder stuffed with fresh crab that the family pulled from the Nueces River. When Donna was a child, he planted a peach tree in the backyard, and she would eat the sweet fruit with milk in the afternoons after school. When John passed away, his family held a life celebration, and they harvested and shared the abundance of vegetables that he had grown in his large backyard garden.
Today, Donna as well as her sister and brother are all gardeners and cooks. In addition to tending her own beds, Donna volunteers at Blackshear Elementary School, where she has helped lead efforts to improve the school garden. Last fall, she brought one of SFC’s Grow Local School Garden Leadership Trainings to Blackshear, and participants were able to see the school’s vegetable and native beds as well as its impressive outdoor teaching pavilion. As the Sustainability Coordinator for Blackshear Bridge, a school-community partnership, Donna also works with a number of East Austin institutions, including Huston-Tillotson University, to advance health and wellness activities at Blackshear. Currently, Blackshear Bridge is working with the PTA Health and Wellness Committee to plan a First Friday Farmer’s Market under the old oak trees growing in the school’s northeast playground. Hopefully, the market will begin next fall and will be open to parents, teachers, staff and neighbors. (Donna hopes to see you there!)
What Donna likes most about food gardening is harvesting with children. The youth are delighted and excited to taste garden produce as soon as it is harvested and to take vegetables home to share with their families. Donna also loves to see parents in the garden because she learns from them – one parent, for example, showed Donna purslane, an herb used in Mexico. Donna also likes to see staff benefit from the garden. She has seen custodians harvest rosemary for a spouse’s headache, and she knows of teachers who like to sit in the garden after lunch to find stillness and ground themselves. After all, food gardens don’t just nourish they body. They also nourish the soul.