The Delta Health Alliance

Family Garden Night

Posted on: May 15, 2019

In the end, it was the “blender bike” that proved a big hit. But the simple act of gardening, and its ability to change lives, was the theme. 

The blender bike – a bicycle equipped with blades in place of rear wheels – mixed smoothies for participants who attended a recent Family Garden Night at Hollandale’s Sanders Elementary School, the newest of three school gardens sponsored by the Delta Health Alliance (DHA) through its Delta EATS program.

“Folks loved the bike, which was provided by Molina Healthcare,” said Ryan Betz, a certified gardener and Delta EATS project coordinator. EATS, or Edible Agriculture Teaching Students, is a network of school gardens supported by DHA. “Our message to the community is that gardening can have a real impact on the lives of students and adults alike. It was a great night.”

Beginning with a ribbon cutting to officially open the Sanders Elementary School garden, about 60 people, including a contingent of Sanders’ fifth graders, were treated to a host of activities, including:

  • Sweet potato planting.
  • Refreshments and taste testings.
  • Distribution of take-home seed packets.
  • Face painting.
  • “U-pick it” from the garden sessions.

“The sweet potato planting will dovetail with the next Family Garden Night in the fall when we will harvest them,” explained Betz. “We will have the fall garden nights at all three schools. We are also coordinating parts of DHA’s summer camps so that campers will get involved with the gardens during their summer break.”

The other two gardens are located at Shaw’s McEvans School and Leland’s Leland Elementary School. Betz estimated that hundreds of pounds of sweet potatoes will be harvested from the gardens in the fall. Sweet potato recipes will be offered to participants and a sweet potato “cookoff” is also being planned.

“We chose the sweet potato because, in the South, it’s such a staple food,” Betz said. “It’s easy to grow, does well in high heat, is immune to insects and isn’t affected by disease. It’s one of those near-perfect vegetables.”

 The school gardens are part of an overall “food strategy” that 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.

A recent $600,000 grant from the USDA 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 the three gardens and connections with local farmers and agriculture programs. EATS is also supported by 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.

“One of our primary goals is to inspire these kids to take what they’ve learned here in the school gardens to their homes and make their own gardens,” said Betz. “It’s amazing how a garden can excite these students. We want to drive them to succeed and a garden is a great way to do that.”