Texans grapple with numerous challenges, yet many are actively seeking solutions

Volunteers prepare fresh vegetables donated by the Dewey Prairie Garden for distribution at the Lords Pantry of Leon County in Buffalo on June 29, 2023. (Joe Timmerman/The Texas Tribune, Joe Timmerman/The Texas Tribune)

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From food insecurity, climate change, education and health care, Texans are using creative solutions and incremental change to address bigger problems in their communities and across the state.

We know stories can get lost amid breaking news and other attention-grabbing moments, so here’s a look at some of the problem-solving Texans whose work you may have missed this year.

Restoring land and addressing hunger: About 60 miles from Waco, a 1-acre garden is helping feed 2,000 people per month and serves as a local educational resource for students. The garden, run by the nonprofit Texan by Nature and supported by volunteers, is part of a massive effort to restore land where lignite coal mining once took place. The company NRG has set aside 9 additional acres to expand the garden, which began as a pilot project.

Maintaining solar farms: Sheep are grazing on Texas solar farms, maintaining pastures with fewer emissions than diesel mowers and, in some cases, reducing friction between renewable energy companies and farmers. Solar power generation requires a lot of land that might have formerly been used for agriculture, but the practice of using land for both agriculture and solar power generation, known as agrivoltaics, is becoming increasingly common in Texas and nationwide.

Tackling “brain drain”: A program at the University of Texas is sending students in Austin back to their hometowns for internships. The program aims to combat the phenomena of “brain drain,” or the loss of local talent, mostly pervasive in smaller industrial cities and rural towns like Odessa and Big Spring. Students who opted into the UT program say it has helped them see their hometowns differently.

Expanding West Texas’ oil and gas workforce: High School students in the Permian Basin are learning oilfield skills inside classrooms thanks to a group funded by energy companies in the region. It's part of a shift in public education to work closely with local business leaders to provide students with employable skills and create a pipeline of workers. Major companies, such as Chevron and ExxonMobil, want to see even more of these programs in place.

Eliminating emissions from school buses: The Martinsville school district became the first in the state to entirely replace its diesel school bus fleet with no-emission electric buses. The modest district in the Piney Woods of East Texas, where pickup trucks and oil field jobs are prevalent, took advantage of a grant from the federal “Clean School Bus Program.” Administrators say the switch will save them a teacher’s salary worth of fuel and maintenance costs, and students have enjoyed the quieter and cleaner ride.

Getting small towns grants: Federal and state grants can be a lifeline for small governments, but figuring out which grants to pursue — and how to apply for them — requires time and resources that many entities don’t have. To help rural towns navigate the process, a Texas nonprofit launched an online roster of grants. And some local officials are using strategic partnerships with private entities to unlock more funding, such as grants that require matching funds.

Meeting firefighters’ mental health needs: Data suggests post-traumatic stress and other mental health concerns are among the biggest dangers for firefighters, and firefighters’ needs have historically been unaddressed amid stigma and a lack of resources. But fire service departments and mental health professionals in Texas have started working to raise awareness and support through education and small legislative changes.

Paving the way for medical care: Texas’ Medicaid health insurance program for low income families often trails medical advances and does not readily cover new treatments. But after years of quarantining and advocating to state insurance officials, one family got their 4-year-old son a life-saving procedure and carved out a path for kids to access FDA-approved treatments that are not yet approved by the state’s Medicaid insurance.

Bonus: From establishing a university, making school policy changes, securing funding for state parks and blocking controversial bills, here’s a look at five moments when showing up at the state Capitol made a difference in Texas history.

Disclosure: ExxonMobil Corporation has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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