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.