San Antonio Food Bank, National Park Service turn to the past to produce fresh produce during ongoing drought

The Park has farms at Mission San Juan that use acequias to grow food

SAN ANTONIO – Mitch Hagney said his hope for a new harvest this summer lies in historic irrigation at Mission San Juan.

“Because of the acequia, we still have crops growing and persisting,” Hagney said. “These squash will actually be distributed directly through the food bank’s normal needs.”

Hagney is the director of food sustainability at the San Antonio Food Bank. The Food Bank is partnered with the National Park Service to grow fresh produce at the farms at the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.

The farm supports people with fresh food across San Antonio, growing pecans, figs, watermelons, corn and beans. And even throughout the drought, this farm is still growing.

“Three hundred years ago, this acequia was irrigating these farmlands and feeding San Antonio. Three hundred years later, this acequia is irrigating these farmlands and feeding San Antonio,” said PT Lathrop, the chief of interpretation, education & volunteers at the park.

Acequias are creek-like irrigation systems Spanish colonists used in the 1700s at Missions, including Mission San Juan.

“The acequias are really the backbone and lifeblood of the mission complex system,” Lathrop said. “We’ve restored the farmlands with a little bit of modern flair.”

Using water from the San Antonio River, Lathrop said three fields known as the “Spanish Demonstration Farms” at Mission San Juan cultivate food.

“I don’t have a crystal ball when it comes to climate change, but these are all the moving pieces we’re doing our best to anticipate and manage,” Lathrop said.

Some foods haven’t had as much success growing in the extreme heat and ongoing drought in Texas, but Hagney said this farm, now with five years of success, is a fighting chance to provide fresh food and preserve history in San Antonio.

“The agriculture of the future is going to look very technological in many ways, and it’s also going to look very historical in other ways,” Hagney said.

About the Author:

Avery Everett is a news reporter and multimedia journalist at KSAT 12 News. Avery is a Philadelphia native. If she’s not at the station, she’s either on a hiking or biking trail. A lover of charcuterie boards and chocolate chip cookies, Avery’s also looking forward to eating her way through San Antonio, one taco shop at a time!