Tevin Gray, the new executive director of GROW Local South Texas, tracks his passion for community and the importance of food accessibility back to his first job in Dayton, Ohio. He worked at a family-owned cafe where he became an artisan pizza chef. “We milled our own flour on site and made everything from scratch,” Gray recalled. “Even the wood-fired oven was hand-built, and the wood we cooked with came from the owner’s property. There was a small garden in the back that worked its way into our dishes and the owners upheld this idea of true quality, providing me with an everlasting passion for food.”
When Gray moved to Corpus Christi with his family a decade ago, GROW Local South Texas’ farmers’ market was one of the first places he began frequenting. After continuously showing up to every market and educational workshop, one of the founders, Aislynn Campbell, asked Gray to join the team. Ever since, Gray has been involved with the nonprofit in varying forms: continuously broadening his knowledge of our region’s native plants and biodiversity, cultivating food, working at various local restaurants to hone his culinary craft and developing the first-of-its-kind outdoor classroom and nature enrichment program at CC-Montessori School. Now, as he steps into the nonprofit’s executive director role, Gray is eager and excited to guide GROW Local South Texas into the future.
Kylie Cooper: You accepted the role of executive director at the end of October 2023. How have the first few months been, and what inspired you to take the position in the first place?
Tevin Gray: The first few months have been more of a re-introduction to the organization. Having worked with GROW Local from the early years, I have been involved with the core development of our programming. Being a part of and helping to grow the first educational staff, running the farmers’ market and assisting in our Farm to Table Fundraising Dinner for five years provided me with a diverse background for the position. When the [opportunity] came, having this experience made taking the role feel like a natural progression to become involved with GROW once again and get back out into the community in this capacity.
KC: How will your prior experience with the organization inform your new leadership role?
TG: At GROW, we like to think of changes over the years similarly to seasonal changes — new seasons bring new opportunities. I have personally grown through many seasons with my
educational development in teaching nature enrichment to grades first through eighth at CC-Montessori, which has provided me with a type of development I think will be a great addition to our current staff.
Speaking of, GROW Local has a great group of staff members on board that brings plenty of enthusiasm to educate, grow and care for our local environment. This to me, is a focus point. Looking forward, I would like to see our staff’s interests and passions shine with any new directions we may take. Education and growing food will always be integrated, but I think the combined experiences will lead us to plenty of new ideas and I am excited to be a part of it.
KC: What are some of your goals for the organization in this new chapter?
TG: In 2024, we are bringing back our connection with local chefs, farmers and crafters to highlight local cuisines and creations. We recently launched our monthly Cook Local event series that will feature a multitude of local artisans to show the community how to use, cook
and preserve the seasonal foods we have available. This will expand into offering more culinary education to all ages, especially within our youth programs. Food is a great way to educate and
bring people together, and I am looking forward to bringing this pillar of GROW back into our programming.
KC: Why is an organization like GROW Local important for a community?
TG: Having a voice in South Texas has a large impact. [This area] tends to have higher rates of obesity and reduced access to healthy, nutrient-dense foods. We directly tackle this problem with our “hands in the ground” curriculum. We teach students of all ages how to grow food and how our relationship with the environment — getting them out in nature and hands-on with the food — provides a healthy, enjoyable experience. This impact carries over to the farmers’ market, where you can buy local produce, meats, bread, dairy products and sweets all in one spot. To solidify the importance of this organization, we provide free and paid educational opportunities throughout the year to get this knowledge to our community and the up-and-coming generation.
KC: What would a successful first year in this position look like for you?
TG: A big goal for us is to become a more sustainable organization. To continue to provide the programming we currently offer and to expand in other areas, we need the support of our community. We are looking for sponsorships and partnerships that will help foster an even bigger impact within our community.
We have our annual Farm to Table Dinner & Fundraiser coming up on Mar. 24. This year’s theme is “A Taste of Italy in Your Backyard,” and attendees will enjoy a meal prepared by the Coastal Bend Chefs and other local artisans, plus a silent auction and live music. Tickets and sponsorship opportunities are available on our website. This is a great way to support us in the New Year. I am excited to watch the progression, impact and growth of our community in the coming year.