STH Adela Vega, Jordan 2_450px.jpg

Spread the Harvest: Overcoming Financial Barriers to Food Gardening

Over the long-term, food gardening is a great way to save money, particularly when food growers produce their own compost, capture rainwater and save seeds; however, starting a food garden can be costly. Often, potential garden sites have little if any soil, and what soil there is has few if any nutrients or soil organisms, requiring would be gardeners to purchase soil and compost. New gardeners must also purchase plants as well as seeds, since they seldom have a stock of saved seeds to pull from. For low-income individuals, families and communities, these costs can be prohibitive to starting a food garden. Because fresh, organic produce is expensive, these same communities stand to benefit most from growing their own food.

In order to reduce financial barriers to food gardening, Grow Local offers Spread the Harvest, a unique program that provides low-income, school and other underserved gardeners with free seeds, plants, compost, and organic liquid fertilizer. We order seeds in bulk from Texas seed companies, and throughout the year, dozens of volunteers repackage the seeds into tens of thousands of smaller envelopes. The seeds are then available year-around at SFC’s offices. They include a variety of vegetable and herb seeds as well as flower seeds and cover crops.

Spread the Harvest members can also find liquid fertilizer year around at our office. We distribute plants and compost as well as seeds and fertilizer during festive fall and spring Resource Give-Away Days. Organics by Gosh (, an Austin-based company that turns organic waste into compost, donates 80 cubic yards of compost to each Give-Away Day, making Spread the Harvest possible. During the bi-annual event, volunteers are on site to help participants shovel up to half a cubic yard of compost (equivalent to five 20-gallon bags) and to load the compost into cars. Other volunteers help Spread the Harvest members sort through and find the plants and seeds of their choice. The Compost Coalition and Travis County Master Gardeners set up tables throughout the day and are available to answer any and all questions about composting, water conservation, pests and more.

Altogether, Spread the Harvest supports close to 3,000 household and community gardeners as well as 133 school gardens and hundreds of other gardeners at clinics, shelters, housing cooperatives and places of worship. More than 300 program members are Spanish speakers who benefit from Spanish language materials and assistance. Sustainable Food Center strives to make healthy food accessible to everyone, and the Spread the Harvest program provides the boost many Austinites need to gain access to fresh food by growing their own. As one participant shared, “Having the incentives you provide makes all the difference for us to continue gardening, especially in times when is so expensive to live in Austin is becoming harder and harder to make ends meet.”