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Delta Health Alliance Community Garden Project

Posted on: August 30, 2013

The seeds of the future have been planted in community gardens across the Delta. In a partnership with Delta Health Alliance, fresh vegetables are sprouting up to provide fresh produce to schools, churches, and area residents. The project was founded to help fill a need providing healthier food choices to local citizens. And the idea is catching on.

To date, almost 50 groups have committed to planting community gardens; from churches and schools to communities themselves. All are providing a service and teaching others how to grow healthy food at little or no cost.

“This is a learning project. It’s not just one person out there planting these gardens, but a lot of people wanting to do something good, positive for their town and the folks who live there,” said Ryan Betz, project manager. And they are learning.

Rose Tate, director of food services at I.T. Montgomery Elementary School in Mound Bayou, says the students get a kick out of seeing where their food comes from.

“They (the students) love to come to our garden and see the strawberry patch or pick grapes right off the vine or make popcorn from the corn we’ve grown,” Tate said while working in the garden. “There is a sense of pride when they come out here and realize where their food comes from.”

Even the school employees are enjoying watching the garden grow and tasting a fresh picked strawberry.

The same can be said for the Sunflower Freedom School Project garden.  Project director Becca Bassett says the students realize food doesn’t just appear in the grocery store; that they can have a hand in growing what they eat. The students oversee several raised bed plots. But others in the community have been invited to plant their own gardens in additional beds at the garden site.

“The garden is about family. It’s something that parents and grandparents can do with their children. We even have one grandmother who planted her own bed here,” Bassett said.

The produce grown in the gardens is either shared by those tending the garden or with church members, community residents or sold at area farmer’s markets, with the proceeds going back into the garden.

That’s what happens to some of the vegetables from the Wiley Community Garden on the campus of Delta State University.

“The produce is shared by those who take care of the garden but we also sell some of it at the Cleveland Farmer’s Market,” Betz said. “It’s one way to get the fresh vegetables back into the community.”

The gardens also assist in providing healthy food to a population that is 68 percent overweight, struggles with diabetes and heart disease. A move is underfoot encouraging young and old alike to exercise more and to make healthier food choices.

“Anyone can grow a garden and it’s not expensive,” said Rob Turner, Director of Planning and Design and Facilities Manager at DSU. “We can teach folks how to put in a garden, the right vegetables to plant at the right time and how to grow them from seed, which is very inexpensive.”

The rich soil of the Mississippi Delta, coupled with a long growing season, is perfect for a successful garden. “All you need is some tender, loving care and the vegetables just multiply,” Betz said. “It just makes sense to have a garden. It makes even more sense to share the bounty with others.”

And that is just what the Community Gardens are doing, all across the Delta. Not only are they feeding area residents, but teaching younger generations how to be self-sustaining, one bite at a time.

Article & Photos by Anne Martin