The Delta Health Alliance

Gardening in Indianola

Posted on: July 19, 2017



The fruits of hard work take know-how to grow. The roots of that fruit, however, lie deep within a community.

Ryan Betz and Marilyn James represent the best of both of those necessary ingredients. Betz is a gardener and project coordinator for the Delta Health Alliance, who just completed a three-week professional certification program focused on leadership as it relates to sustainable food systems. James is a community leader, organizer, and parent liaison and parental engagement coordinator for Delta Health Alliance. Together, the pair is overseeing the highly successful Indianola Freedom Community Garden adjacent to Carver Elementary School.

“This garden has given the community a sense of pride,” said James, who is also president of the Indianola Roosevelt Community Association, which has played a big role in the project. “People drive by and honk their horns when we’re out here working because they feel a real sense of ownership.”

Just this growing season, the garden has produced hundreds of pounds of produce including tomatoes, squash, carrots, peppers, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, blackberries, okra and various herbs. That food is distributed throughout the community, helping to improve eating habits and, ultimately, residents’ health.

“This one garden has provided great educational tools to change the way people think about food and has given them a sense of power and self-worth that comes with growing their own fruits and vegetables,” said Betz.

The Freedom Garden has many attendants, including between 15 and 20 children who work the landscaped patch of ground every Friday and Tuesday. A dance group called the Young Steppers and Performers for Christ are part of the team that plants and maintains the garden, as well as keeping journals of their activity and recruiting others to be part of the effort.

“People are out here all day picking vegetables. It’s really a community gathering,” said James. “We’ve even sold some of the produce to raise money for a student trip to Washington DC.”

Betz’s participation in the leadership program, administered through the University of Vermont, adds another component to the gardening projects that DHA has developed to better educate children and adults, and influence change in the food system. Such change is especially important in a region of the country where fresh foods for adequate nutrition can be difficult to find at affordable costs.

The Freedom Garden is just one in a network of community gardens supported by Delta Health Alliance, including those at McEvans School in Shaw and Trigg Elementary School in Greenville.

Betz will head a team of six Delta Health Alliance staff members to make each garden into an important piece of the communities in which they are located; and to ensure that the students and residents of those communities develop a sense of ownership for a sustainable food source.

But more than just places to grow fruits and vegetables, the gardens are outdoor classrooms, where students can sit at picnic-style benches and hone their math as they configure growing spaces, and learn a new vocabulary centered around gardening. Such activities dovetail with students’ regular school studies.

Committed adult leaders such as James and Betz are ensuring the success of the gardens, season after season.

“The value of hard work, and being self-sufficient and unselfish; these are things that the entire community is learning,” said James. “A garden is a world in itself.”