There are a few universal elements in life that give us hope: blooming flowers, the laughter of children, the crisp air at the dawn of a new day. And some people are so full of life that they, too, offer hope.
Houstonian Carlos Meltzer is one of those people. It surprises no one that destiny landed him in the position of Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education Instructor for Hope Farms, a local urban-agriculture showcase and training center.
Meltzer was an outstanding student throughout his years growing up in Houston—so much so that the eloquent teen’s talents landed him a full-ride scholarship to Sarah Lawrence College.
Founded in the 1920s, the prestigious school located north of New York City was originally a liberal-arts finishing school for young women, but has since become a co-ed institution. As an out gay man, the history of the college was appealing to Meltzer.
“I was absolutely thrilled,” he recalls. “It proved to be a wonderful experience for me. I was able to practice a learning model that continued the principles of my teachers in high school. Independent work paired with small classes allowed me to see how everything is woven together. It was invaluable for what I do now.”
Armed with his college degree, Meltzer returned to his hometown to pursue his interests in early childhood education, theater arts, and (most importantly) his natural passion for food.
It was Meltzer’s good fortune in 2005 to have out celebrity-chef Monica Pope introduce him to progressive activist-philanthropists Gracie and Bob Cavnar. Pope was helping the Cavnars launch their visionary foundation Recipe for Success, and she thought Meltzer would make a good addition.
Pope’s instincts proved correct. Meltzer has been associated with the nonprofit for 16 years now.
Recipe for Success was founded to help combat childhood obesity by changing the way kids understand food. It has proven so successful that in 2010 it captured the attention of First Lady Michelle Obama, landing the Cavnars an invitation to the White House to help design and launch Obama’s Let’s Move Initiative.
One major offshoot of the Recipe for Success agency is Hope Farms, a seven-acre working urban farm located in Houston’s Third Ward. Hope Farms grows fresh produce in the heart of an urban “food desert,” making it available to local residents at affordable prices. Classes of all sorts are also taught there: chef-driven gardening and cooking classes for kids and adults, and the agency’s Hope Farmer Training Program, which is committed to growing the ranks of skilled urban micro-farmers in the Gulf Coast region.
And just what does Meltzer do as the Hope Farms nutrition instructor? He does it all.
“That’s what I like best about my job,” he exclaims. One day I am teaching children about vegetables. The next day I am interviewing chefs, and the day after that I am teaching receptive adults about urban farming. Each day is a new day, and I love that!”
Indeed, Meltzer is a very good fit for the work of Hope Farms. When pressed to identify the aspect he finds most rewarding, it takes only a moment of thought: “It is so much fun introducing the children to fresh produce from the farm. Sometimes there is a moment when a child realizes that green beans don’t just grow in a can at the store. Or a moment of sharing a new fresh vegetable with children, and they like it. Those events really keep me going—there is so much hope in them,” he smiles.
Since Meltzer spends many hours each day with these kids, how does he respond, as an openly gay professional, to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” school curriculum law? “I feel it’s most important to be myself at all times, and show the children that there isn’t any one part of a person that defines them,” Meltzer emphasizes. “Showing them that you can be yourself and explore any type of activity, work, or studies, is the best way to help them understand that stereotypes are over, and they can be their honest selves and live life unencumbered.”
Another one of Meltzer’s favorite activities is the Hope Farms Market Stand, held each Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. This Third Ward farmers market sells some of the freshest produce available in Houston, in addition to house-made preserves and other products from Hope Farms and its community partners.
“I am there each week sharing samples of tasty produce items from the market with guests. It’s amazing to introduce radishes, kohlrabi, rainbow carrots, and many other veggies to people who have never had them before. It’s great to lead families to new options. Sometimes, when the kids get really excited about what they taste, we will do an impromptu harvest lesson with them,” Meltzer explains. “It’s always a lively atmosphere, and we are seeing more new faces each week!”
When will the Hope Farms Saturday farmers market be seeing yours?
For more info, visit hopefarmshtx.org.
This article appears in the April 2022 edition of OutSmart magazine.