Editor's note: The Southern Foodways Alliance delves deep in the history, tradition, heroes and plain old deliciousness of Southern food. Today's contributor, Emilie Dayan, writes a weekly SFA blog series called "Sustainable South" about food and the environment, nutrition, food access, food justice, agricultural issues and food politics.
Since 2000, Joe Nelson Icet has been advancing on Houston’s Northeastern front. He calls himself a guerrilla gardener. As founder and director of the Last Organic Outpost, he takes abandoned lots littered with trash and turns them into fertile land. Planted off of Emile Street, Icet engages the community in urban farming, his biggest plot in the industrial ruins of the old Comet Rice Mill. In doing so, land in Houston’s Fifth Ward is revitalized through farming.
The mission is simple:
Before farming, Icet worked in chemical manufacturing. In 1999 he says he felt a void. “I realized if I just work and work and never really have any friends, not really have a mission, a life, I was just going to die unhappy and miserable.”
So, in January of 2000, Icet planted the first seeds in his backyard. That garden developed into the Last Organic Outpost, which officially became a non-profit in 2003.
The project is generating a food economy in the Fifth Ward by building resources around soil fertility and land stewardship. The gardens are completely operated by volunteers. Icet invites anyone and everyone to join the effort. The public is also invited every Saturday for the Big Pick, where consumers can watch first hand as their produce is fresh-picked and bagged. He adds, “anybody who eats might be interested in what we do.”
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