The Delta Health Alliance

Delta EATS Grant

Posted on: March 15, 2019

Ryan Betz envisions a day when as much as 15 percent of the food served in Hollandale, Leland and Shaw schools is coming from local gardens and farmers. 

“We’re still a long way off, but we have to take small bites to get to where we want to be,” said Betz, a certified gardener and Delta EATS project founder and manager for the Delta Health Alliance (DHA). “It all starts with planning to be able to build a network that achieves our goals.”

Delta EATS, or Edible Agriculture Teaching Students – a network of school gardens supported by DHA – took an important bite through the receipt of a $34,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant to develop a community food strategy “through the lens of the farm-to-school program,” said Betz.

The community food strategy has four primary goals:

  • To meet the food needs an increase self-reliance of low-income families.
  • To improve coordination and distribution between agricultural and commercial food sectors.
  • To create innovative marketing activities that benefit farmers, producers and low-income residents.
  • To plan for long-term solutions and foster an interest in sustainable community-based agriculture among future generations.

As stated by the USDA, the grant will be used to develop “a program to fight food insecurity through developing community food projects that help promote the self-sufficiency of low-income people by increasing their access to fresher, more nutritious food supplies.”

The EATS program has already developed a strong foot-hold in the three communities it currently serves through a network of school gardens and connections with local farmers and agriculture programs. 

The three school gardens are located at Hollandale’s Sanders Elementary School; Shaw’s McEvans School; and Leland’s Leland Elementary School. Overseen by Betz, the program is also supported by AmeriCorps-FoodCorps members, the U.S. Department of Education, the Whole Foods/Whole Kids Foundation, the Mississippi Farm to School Network and Lowes. The program has received numerous in-kind contributions, and individual and local business donations.

Betz points to the Leland vocational-technical center as an example of ways in which new agricultural partnerships can be formed to the benefit of everyone. In this case, the vo-tech center has three underutilized greenhouses that can serve as “mini incubators,” said Betz, to grow seedlings for the EATS network gardens, and to teach gardening and agriculture-related lessons to students and adults in a hands-on environment.

“Ultimately, this is about starting to supply more food that we eat from right here in the community, and getting food services directors in the schools to be open to developing connections with local growers,” said Betz. “I think we’ve sowed the seeds to make that happen. I think we’re becoming a real leader with our classroom education component.”

Each school garden is an outdoor classroom, equipped with a series of garden “rooms” that highlight different uses and functions such as garden entrance space and pathways; raised beds and square-foot classroom labs; and double-dug production bed spaces to produce a higher yield of just a few crop varieties to be used for cafeteria taste tests and cooking lessons.

“When we put all the pieces together – the school gardens, the cafeterias, the vo-tech center, the local growers and farmers – we’re going to have a network that fulfills the food supply needs of these communities, resulting in healthier, more educated students and adults,” said Betz.