Plant It Forward

*Image courtesy of Plant-It-Forward

If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves. ~Thomas Edison

A few years back, Teresa O’Donnell, a Houston resident and corporate executive who had co-founded a successful software company, was charged with finding a way for her company to invest in “community wellbeing.”

“Community wellbeing.” 

A vague concept that could mean anything from roadside cleanup to an overhaul of public education.

She searched. And she thought.

Eventually she came across a newspaper article about refugees from war-torn countries that had settled in Houston. Intrigued, she contacted the refugee resettlement office, where she learned that many of the refugees were undereducated, could not speak English, and had few marketable job skills.

Daunted, Teresa couldn’t imagine there was much that her software company could offer to help these refugees. But the woman at the office asked her to come and greet a refugee family who was arriving at the Houston airport. Just come and see for yourself, the woman suggested.

Teresa said yes.

So one evening she greeted an exhausted and anxious blended family of 9 Somalis at the airport – two adults and seven children, four of whom were orphans. She marveled at the small government-issued satchels they each carried, which held all of their earthly possessions. And as she helped them acclimate to their new apartment – showing them how to flush the toilet, work the microwave and mix hot and cold water, she knew that her life had just changed. The one hour that she spent with them had done something to her heart, and she knew she’d never be the same.

But she didn’t know how, exactly, she could help them.

Inspiration struck while she was reading yet another article in the Houston Chronicle. The article was about “market gardening,” and was written by a local-food activist who believed that farming an acre of land and selling the produce at farmers’ markets could provide a sustainable living for a family.

She called her new friend at the refugee agency.

“Do any of these refugees happen to be farmers?” She asked.

“Actually, they’re all farmers.”

She got goosebumps.

And thus began her journey from corporate executive of a software company to the creator of Plant-It-Forward, which “secures land, selects, trains, and mentors farmers and establishes each on their own urban farm to sell under the Plant It Forward brand.”

She had no background in farming and no knowledge of agriculture. She had no specialized expertise, and when things went wrong (as things often do) she would ask herself “who did I think I was, anyway?”

Well, friends. She was one woman.

One woman who, tasked with finding a suitable corporate project, was inspired to create a groundbreaking program that today is feeding people’s bodies and minds. In the literal sense, Plant It Forward farms feed their customers – as well as their farmers and their families (who eat the produce that don’t sell or that aren’t market-worthy). But the farms also inspire other Houstonians – member of local schools, community groups, churches and colleges – who all come out to help create new farms and to learn about the work that Plant-It-Forward is doing.

Most importantly, Plant-It-Forward improves the lives of people who have had everything crushed. Having left their countries in fear for their lives, farming gives these refugees some control over their future, while returning them to something familiar – working the land.

And it gives them the power to dream again. One refugee farmer talks about his dreams of being able to save a few thousand dollars, not to buy something for himself, or even for his family. But because with that much money he can “do something for over there — for one village, for two villages, for water, for medicine, to dress people.” He talks about how he’s finally happy. And his wife is happy. And his children are happy. And now he wants to do something for others.

It all started with one woman.

One woman who was inspired.

One woman who saw a need, and didn’t just look away.

That one woman has changed so many others’ lives and fortunes, while inspiring so many more.

We’re all capable of such wonderful things.

I hope you see what you are capable of.

And that you don’t look away.

Let’s get to work.

*This post first appeared on SDD in April 2018. Since then our numbers have swelled (welcome!). During this turbulent week/month/year/era, I wanted to remind you how much one person – like you – can do. Be well, and we’ll see you next week.

Actions for the Week of November 4, 2019

Tuesday: Spread the Word! Open Enrollment Going on NOW

ACA Open Enrollment is going on from November 1 to December 15. If you’re not hearing a lot about it, it’s because it’s not being advertised by the administration. As you know, there’s been a concerted effort since Trump took office to decrease enrollment – and with such a short window to sign up, our efforts are even more important.

Please SHARE with your networks on social media, and ask them to share with their networks too. Go to for great social media assets to share, printable posters and flyers, and message guidance.

Consider printing one of their flyers to put at the local coffee shop, to put up in your own store, or to put up on the bulletin board at the grocery store. There are lots of organic ways to get the message out there, so let’s do what we can to spread the word!

Wednesday: Help make sure we contest every race!

Are you looking for a way to help make sure every race in the U.S. is contested, but don’t know how? Maybe volunteering is hard because you have limited time and inconsistent availability. Or maybe you live in a blue state where you don’t feel like you can make as much of a difference in finding local candidates.

Boy do I have the project for you! Contest Every Race is a great project that recognizes that until we have people running in every race (esp in rural America) we can’t expect to get the Democratic turnout we want.

From their website: “Contest Every Race works with state partners to recruit candidates for uncontested races. Our volunteer research and texting teams help us find uncontested races by contacting county clerks, town election offices, and school boards, and then contact local activists through our texting platform to encourage them to run.”

You can be part of their research team and help identify races that are, as of yet, uncontested. Or you can be part of their texting team to find and recruit folks to run. Check it out!

Thursday: Sign Up For Strike Part Two!

The Trump administration has started the process of pulling the US out of the Paris climate accord. Due to some scheduling peculiarities, he won’t be able to pull out of the agreement until the day after the next election. (HA!) It’s really important that we make sure legislators see how strongly we feel about climate change.

The Youth Climate Strike in September was a great success. But it was only the first! Let’s help keep the momentum going by signing up for the next climate strikes, on November 29 and December 6. You can find an event near you here:

If you don’t see an event near you, sign up to host! Please share with others in your network – both youth-led and adult-led organizations, to make sure everyone hears about it.

Friday: Grandmothers In Action!

h/t to Susan Rogan of Rogan’s List for this one! Grandmothers for a Brighter Future is a community of postcard writers all across the country, who have been writing postcards since 2008. (!!) Their postcards have a template message that is then handwritten by the writers, who stamp and send the postcard to a target list of voters. If you’re looking for a way to get involved that doesn’t require knocking on doors, this is a great way to go about it! (Note that their group is targeted to grandmothers; I’m sure they’d be welcoming to all.)


P.S.: Why don’t you make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two? I bet they need it.

If you’d like to sign up to get this pep talk and action list in your in-box each week, you can do that here. Welcome, friend!

P.P.S.: If you want to help support this work you can do so via Patreon at or via paypal at
My deepest gratitude in advance.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. I read and respond to every e-mail. (Really! I really do!) We’re in this together. Don’t you forget it.

Have a thought? A small deed to suggest? Share it here!

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