The San Antonio Food Bank Transformed Historic Farmland to Help Hungry Families

The Texas food bank uses centuries-old farming techniques to grow food for families in need.

In San Antonio, Texas, the latest method of combating and preventing hunger is nearly 300 years old. A partnership between the San Antonio Food Bank and the historic Mission San Juan, built by Spanish missionaries in 1731, allows the food bank to plant, nurture and harvest about 250,000 pounds of fresh produce per year.

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Their Land Lease Is $1

“It was a call from the National Park Service that invited us to the table,” says Eric Cooper, president and CEO of the San Antonio Food Bank. The park service suggested that the food bank lease 50 acres of farmland for $1 and restore it to productivity using the park’s water rights to irrigate crops.

“In Texas, they say whiskey’s for drinking and water is for fighting over,” Cooper says, “so we jumped at the chance.”

Food For Good HarvestingCourtesy San Antonio Food Bank

Serving the Public in Two Ways

The arrangement not only provides food for those who need it, but also is an educational resource. It allows Mission San Juan to demonstrate its original irrigation techniques for visitors, notes Mardi J. Arce, superintendent of San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.

The five acres closest to the Mission San Juan building are cultivated using the same methods developed by the missionaries, with water diverted from the San Antonio River and into an acequia, or irrigation ditch, and back to the river. Crops grown on that plot include beans, watermelon, peppers, squash and corn.

The remaining 45 acres are farmed using modern irrigation methods. One of the plots is dedicated to a citrus orchard. Other plantings include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, jalapenos, onions and tomatoes. San Antonio Food Bank staff and community volunteers tend to the garden and harvest its yield.

The fresh produce helps feed the 58,000 people served per week by the food bank through its distribution outlets and programs.

Living out San Juan’s Mission

Cooper draws a direct line between the spiritual work of the original missionaries and the role of the Mission San Juan farm today.

“It’s food as tradition, it’s love,” Cooper says. “And this effort to grow food reminds us of that sacred ingredient and the importance of land, water, hard work and growth. It’s an incredible backdrop for a deeper understanding and appreciation for who we are and our time here on Earth.”

Next up: This registered dietitian proves eating healthy on a budget is possible.

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Nan Bialek
When she was in fourth grade, a local newspaper published one of Nan’s stories and she hasn’t stopped writing since. Today, as a freelancer, she writes features and website content about inspiring people who are trying to change the world. When she’s not telling their stories, Nan enjoys getting her hands dirty in the garden, reading novels and hunting for quirky vintage décor.