By Rebecca Rose
Harker Heights Herald
When Harker Heights announced it was starting a farmers market, it didn't take long to get the first vendor application. The caller was excited; his enthusiasm so infectious that the staff at Harker Heights' busy Parks and Recreation Department still remembers the day he contacted them.
But it's not just his energy and memorable personality that set Joe Hudson, 21, apart from the other vendors lining up to sell their homegrown produce.
Hudson is legally blind.
It's a disability that hasn't stopped him from starting his own home business, with produce grown in the backyard of his home in Harker Heights.
"I think it's a good thing that Harker Heights has done," said Hudson, referring to the city's first-ever farmers market. "I'm really looking forward to it. I'll have tomatoes, chard, beans, squash, peppers, onions, okra and lots more."
It all began four years ago, when Hudson was first starting as a student with the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, located in Austin. TSBVI functions as a public school, facilitating placements for students who are visually impaired. According to its mission statement, the overall goal is "to develop the skills necessary to lead vocationally, personally, and socially satisfying and productive lives."
Hudson said the school is like a college campus. He stays at a dorm, attending school with more than 180 students from around the state.
He is enrolled in a work training program that teaches students to grow and sell their own produce. Hudson perfected his farming skills, working every week at the Sunshine Community Garden, also owned by the school. Every week, he and the group of students are tasked with maintaining the garden and taking crates of fresh fruits and vegetables to the Austin Farmers Market.
"We sell produce and we run the booth at the market," he said, explaining that he and his work crew are responsible for everything from planting, picking, washing and displaying the food they grow. "Everyone helps out."
He said they also learned how to make good judgments on the pricing of fresh fruits and vegetables, and the basics of managing the finances of a small business.
"It's a huge responsibility, making sure we know how much is in the drawer."
He is set to graduate from the program in June.
Hudson is now taking the next step, with plans to sell his own homegrown fruits and vegetables at the Harker Heights farmers market. He created his first business out of a simple planter box in the small backyard at his home in Harker Heights.
Everything is grown in what Hudson calls a "compact garden"; a self-contained 15-foot by 12-foot box behind the house he shares with his family. He gets seeds online or at a local nursery. The watering system is a simple lawn sprinkler, programmed on an automatic timer.
He started in early February of this year, when he asked his brother to help build a planter box in the yard.
With little more than a $500 investment in wood and gardening supplies, and dirt from a friend's construction company, the business was born.
Hudson said he enjoys the socialization he gets from meeting people who are interested in gardening and farming. The physical rigors and being able to work outside are his favorite part.
"I have fun doing this. I felt like it was a good thing to continue to do in my community. Soon, I'll have tomatoes, chard, beans, squash, peppers, onions, okra and lots more."
When he's in the garden working, Hudson said he thinks about feeding people with his food.
"I think it's important. Prices are going up. People want home-grown vegetables. They want to buy local produce."
It was the staff at his school who inspired him to appreciate the value of local goods and services.
"The dorm staff. They don't eat at chains, they eat at local restaurants. It's important to buy things locally. It contributes to the community."
As for his potential earnings, he said he plans to "definitely split it with my family."
Hudson, whose hobbies include listening to hip-hop and country music and spending time with his friends, said he wants to expand someday. He would like to get a bigger garden and eventually be able to teach others how to start their own backyard gardens.
Hudson said people who underestimate him because of his disability are "going to be surprised."
"I think they are going to think, 'If he can do it, anybody can."
Contact Rebecca Rose at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7548. Follow her on Twitter at KDHheights.