nonprofit

Farming for Good

By Jessica Wilt / Photography By Christian Sacra | May 08, 2017
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Anume sows but lets local charities reap


Nestled in the rolling hills between La Grange and Schulenberg, the Anume Foundation and farm is making an impact on its surrounding community. Focused on growing organic vegetables, the farm donates 75% of its produce to charity. Started in March 2014, the Anume Foundation—referred to simply as Anume, a play on the words A Nutrient Me—was the brainchild of Victoria Velarde. Retired from the Plaza Group, Velarde purchased 55 acres outside of Schulenburg with the intent to turn the fertile soil, grow organic food and give back to the community.

The first year, she planted a narrow strip of land that yielded 90 pounds of produce. She donated the produce to the Houston Food Bank. “It ignited something beautiful,” said Velarde. “We thought, ‘If one strip did that well, let’s do six rows,’” she said, smiling.

In the Schulenberg/La Grange area, she saw a need for access to healthy, fresh food and felt that she could make a direct, visible impact. In a desire to give back through farming she formed Anume as a nonprofit to further involve the community.

Because Velarde had never farmed before, it has been a learning curve, both on the farm and on the management end of the business. “When I first started, I didn’t realize how long it would take me to get established. It is monumental when you are starting a nonprofit.” She formed a dedicated, dynamic board of directors from a mix of different business disciplines that gave her “the confidence to move forward.” She networked in the community, sought out advice in sustainable farming methods, went to soil and conservation conferences and reached out to Texas A&M. “When you get started on such a mission, you have to talk to the right people, surround yourself with the right people,” said Velarde.

One of those people was Ashley Calderon, a. Texas A&M graduate with a degree in horticulture. Velarde hired her in December 2015. “[Vicky] told me, ‘I don’t know a lot [about farming], but you know it. I would love to have women get together and run this farm,’” said Calderon. “I thought it was a great opportunity to get my hands dirty and really learn,” she added. “It’s been a work in progress. Being able to literally reap what you sow is rewarding in so many aspects.”

Calderon is now Velarde’s right-hand woman at Anume. Together the women have learned valuable lessons about crop management and rotation, the importance of weeds and of not over tilling. With guidance from experts, they have focused on soil health, using inputs such as organic manure and composting to enrich the soil. Compost has become a big part of the farm and Velarde can often be seen collecting her neighbors’ leaves to add to the pile.

“Farming is constantly learning,” said Calderon. “There’s always something new … the maintenance of the equipment, buying the seeds, continual planning, preparing the soil with cover crop, you can’t know it all,” she said. Currently, 12 acres are under cultivation seasonally, growing organic beets, three kinds of lettuce, radishes, carrots, Swiss chard, New Mexico peppers and herbs.

To sustain the farm, 25% of Anume’s produce is sold to restaurants and markets in Houston, and Velarde eventually wants to develop a CSA. “Staying in that business model that we created is tricky. I always have to look at the numbers, how much I have given and how much I have sold. I’m always balancing it,” explained Velarde.

While the work is difficult, the impact the women are having is measurable. Each week, the harvest is donated to the Fayette County food banks, including the AMEN Food Pantry and the Schulenberg Food Pantry, the Bastrop Family Crisis Center and the Central Texas Food Bank.

Before Anume’s donations, most of the supplies at La Grange’s AMEN Food Pantry were canned and packaged. “It is so nice that they do this for the community and grow food for the specific reason of helping other people,” said Cassie Girard, director of AMEN. “All of our clients love the fresh vegetables. It teaches them how to eat healthier.” The food pantry hands out recipes to help its clients learn to use new produce.

“Our clients always enjoy the fresh carrots and beets that would be expensive specialty items in the grocery store,” said Debbie Blansitt, from Schulenberg Food Pantry. She appreciates Velarde and her mission and said that Anume’s staff has become like family.

In the nursery (Ashley Calderon in white t-shirt)

In 2017, Velarde wants to extend her reach by obtaining grants and donations from local businesses. She has also started Anuway—a new way to raise beef. She currently has 22 head of Angus/Brahmin cattle and is working with the Schulenberg FFA to create a learning environment. The meat will also be donated to local charities.

When she traded in her cocktail dresses for farm attire, Velarde might not have known what impact she would have on her community. She is feeding her neighbors; her passion and dedication are bringing new people to live and work in the area; and she is inspiring others to start nonprofit farms.

“Vicky has taught me that knowledge is a powerful thing and when you put your mind to something and your passion is in line with it, great things can happen,” said Calderon.

“Some people measure success by the money,” said Velarde. “I’m measuring success by the people I touch.”

> Visit anumefoundation.org to learn more about the farm or how to get involved.

Article from Edible Houston at http://ediblehouston.ediblecommunities.com/shop/farming-good
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