By Chris Luna H.O.P.E Founder
Eagle Pass, TX - Lifestyle diseases, just like nutritional deficiencies, malnutrition, CO2 emissions, deforestation, droughts, desertification, wildfires and chemical use in agriculture have been on the rise all in the last half century. This is something that Chris Luna noticed and felt he had to do something about. For a time he felt lost, too small to do anything, to have any real change in the world, hopeless. Then he noticed a correlation between our health and the planet's health, they stem from the same root cause, he says, we’ve been trying to control nature instead of working with it. The environmental degradation of our planet is a reflection of the degradation of our bodies and polluted minds.
This led Luna to take action at a local level in his hometown of Eagle Pass, where he founded Helping Our Planet Evolve (H.O.P.E), a non-profit organization with a mission of creating healthy and sustainable communities by rekindling the connection that humans once had with nature. H.O.P.E. 's first and current project is the first of many community gardens in Eagle Pass. It was created at the end of August and the garden has already received over $700 in donations, mostly through facebook fundraisers. They usually have 3-7 volunteers every Sunday morning at 473 School circle, a private residence of Isaias Galvan. Isaias learned about Luna’s mission through Facebook and without hesitation he jumped on board.
Isa has always done things to help his community, such as a theatre play of The Nightmare before Christmas which he coordinated, directed, and acted in at the Aztec theatre, he also participated in local skating competitions that led to a few local skaters receiving sponsorships. He had always wanted to start a garden but never really knew how. Isa knows that this is one of the biggest ways he can help his community, by providing access to nutrient-dense organic food which will improve physical and mental health in a community that desperately needs it. The dog volunteers Zed, Princess, Jojo, and Gaia are also there every volunteer day, although Zed’s unexpected death hit the team pretty hard, he will still remain a part of the garden. He is buried with a lemon tree on top of him, so his body can give nutrients to the tree and help it grow.
Luna believes that they will inspire Eagle Pass residents to nurture their health and the health of the planet through plant cultivation in the form of urban agriculture. His goal is for everyone in Eagle Pass to have a community garden within walking or biking distance of their home as well as a garden in every school, from daycares to community colleges by 2030. The current project is taking place in Isa’s backyard, who’s soil was in poor condition when they started, but has been built up through repurposing newspaper high in nitrogen donated by Eagle Pass News Leader, cardboard high in carbon from the recycling center and people donating, and mulch from the city yard. These items will decompose and give macronutrients to the soil where they plan to build their garden beds on top of. 2 beds were built previously and are currently growing squash, radishes, cucumbers, and green beans which will be ready to harvest mid-November. The Slums Skateshop, a local business in Del Rio Blvd sponsored the first winter garden bed, where they planted kale, lettuce, and spinach, as well as a mandarine tree. Jesse and Nicole, the owners of the slums participated while their son Mickey helped plant the mandarine tree. The HOPE garden is projected to have 18 garden beds and 11 fruit trees by the time of its completion at the end of next year, providing a space for communal learning, gardening, and cultural gatherings.
Urban Agriculture drastically reduces food waste through composting food scraps and leftovers that would normally end up in the landfill, producing methane gas, a greenhouse gas that has 40x the impact of carbon on our atmosphere and speeds up global warming. Urban Agriculture diverts it to gardens that then combine the carbon stored in them with hydrogen in the air and produce carbohydrates in the form of vegetables that will boost our health and our immune systems, something crucial especially in these times.
Conventional chemical agriculture in the U.S. uses over 1 BILLION pounds of pesticides each year. That not only kills pests but also destroys the beneficial microbes in the soil, as well as other beneficial insects such as bees and butterflies, and it even harms aquatic life in nearby streams and rivers, which could lead to the ocean. Pesticides are also associated with elevated risks of cancer in humans. Community gardens would replace these foods from our community with organic produce, improving the health not only of the people who consume them but of the ecosystem and all its inhabitants as well.
The idea is to help people be as healthy as possible because healthy people are happy people, and happy people make a beautiful community. Something as simple as composting is something everyone can do, and when everyone does it, it creates a huge impact on our city and our planet. Composting, Luna says, is the first step to Helping Our Planet Evolve. H.O.P.E. has a composting service people can sign up for, and other services to make your life and home healthy and sustainable as well as workshops and courses that you can access at Helpingourplanetevolve.org.
He is also teaming up with Aaron Valdez who founded Smart Energy Solution, a solar panel company native to Eagle Pass. It offers homeowners full self-sufficient homes by producing their own light from the sun, this is possible by harvesting rainwater and growing their own food in their backyards.
Luna says, “By localizing our food system through urban agriculture education we can create healthy soil, healthy soil produces healthy plants, healthy plants produce healthy animals & humans, healthy humans produce healthy communities, healthy communities produce healthy nations, and healthy nations can produce a healthy planet.” He hopes that Eagle Pass can be an example to the rest of the world of what a healthy and sustainable community can look like.
The H.O.P.E. team is thinking global but acting local, creating change from micro to macro, states Luna. He believes that healing ourselves and our planet is the mission of our generation, and he doesn't mean millennials or gen Z, but of every person living right now, including you. “This is the great work of our time, it is every person's responsibility and privilege to contribute to this metamorphosis.” You can find Luna leading the volunteers at the garden Sunday Mornings, or reach out to him and follow his journey on social media platforms like facebook at Helping Our Planet Evolve and instagram @healthy_sustainable_culture, or donate to his cause on the website.