Anyone looking at Ivy Wall’s resume might assume that her contributions to the health and food justice movement are mostly academic. And for a time, they were. Having graduated from Prairie View A&M University in 2016 with a degree in biology and a minor in chemistry, Walls went to work in epidemiology for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and later became an infection preventionist for a hospital in Houston, near her hometown.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. in 2020, it struck Walls that people with preexisting conditions were getting hit hardest by the virus—and that you could prevent these preexisting conditions by eating better and doing better.
But when Walls looked around the South Houston community of Sunnyside where she lived, it was clear that doing better was easier said than done. “Going to the grocery store was not what’s up,” says Walls. “All of the fruit and vegetables were the last pick of the truck and already bruised. By Day 2, it would already be moldy and ready to be thrown in the trash."
Walls had been growing her own vegetables for fun. But noticing the need for fresh food in her historically Black community, she kicked it into overdrive. Working from a farm on her family’s 5-acre property in nearby Pearland, she started sharing her bounty of zucchini squash, kale and okra with her neighbors. She also asked her friends and followers on Instagram if they had grandparents in Sunnyside who would love fresh produce, and then she would drop off bundles at their doorsteps.
In August 2020, Walls committed full-time to providing access to fresh produce in Sunnyside via Ivy Leaf Farms. “What’s most important about our farm is that our produce is our mission, it’s not our product,” says Walls. “We can’t ask people to do better if we’re not giving them better or showing them better and making it accessible.”
Walls’ team includes project manager Jesse Marmolejo as well as her dad Walter, a computer engineer for NASA and now lead farmhand, who Walls describes as “the muscle around Ivy Leaf Farms.” In fact, Walls credits her parents’ encouragement growing up as giving her the “audacity” to set big goals and achieve them.
“My parents never talked me out of my dreams, but they wouldn’t necessarily just give me everything to support them either,” she says. “If I told my mom I want to go skydiving in a clown suit, she’d be like, ‘Fine. Find the safest skydiving place, and I think I saw some clown suits at Target last week.’ ”
Walls is expanding the reach of Ivy Leaf Farms with the opening of The Green Houwse. It will be a combination farm and market located in the middle of the city so it can serve the communities of East Houston, North Houston and South Houston. There also will be a shop that sells plants, coveralls and other goods, allowing Walls to continue to provide produce to the community at little to no cost.
The Green Houwse will host up to 10 residencies of farmers, creatives and artisans, allowing people “of the neighborhood” to start their own microbusinesses and have their own farm stand at the market. “It’s open and available every day for people to come and shop,” says Walls. “And it’s right next to the bus stop—that was one of the biggest things: finding a place that is completely accessible.”
Walls has never stopped delivering food to people’s doorsteps either. One of her other efforts is Black Farmer Box, a produce delivery service and collaboration between Ivy Leaf Farms and Fresh Life Organic, a Houston-based produce company and agriculture consulting firm run by a fellow Prairie View A&M alum.
It’s all fitting with her mission, which Walls describes as “food justice in motion,” meaning getting the food from the farmers straight to the consumers.
All these efforts take funding, Walls says. “Farming is not a cheap thing. Dirt is expensive, soil is expensive, and mending the soil is expensive. Paying farmhands an equitable rate is expensive. The biggest thing is money. … And if you can’t [donate], then like, share, or tell someone about the work that’s being done.”
Guided by Kellogg’s African American Resource Group and our wellness brands Special K, Eggo, MorningStar Farms and Kashi, Kellogg has launched “Black History Every Month: A Call for Food Justice,” shining a light on the barriers to food justice and elevating the work of local heroes fighting to remove them.
As part of this commitment, Kellogg is making a $10,000 donation to Ivy Leaf Farms as well as organizations in New Orleans, Oakland, and other cities. To further raise awareness, Kellogg commissioned a mural at Ivy Leaf Farms’ community garden space at The Black Store in Houston. Painted by Loic Ercolessi of Street Art for Mankind, it depicts Black food heroes, George Washington Carver, Edna Lewis and Celeste Clark.
Ivy Leaf Farms founder Ivy Walls sees value in the awareness efforts like this can raise. “There’s a need to uplift Black voices, Black stories, and I hope that other major corporations are encouraged to not only donate, but lift up the stories within their own sectors.”