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Feature   | Spring 2010

A Victory for Community Gardens

Volunteers help feed Indiana's hungry

21st-century victory gardens

The Kokomo garden also includes two demonstration "victory gardens" to spur interest in growing vegetables on smaller home plots. During World War II, a poster campaign encouraged nearly 20 million Americans to plant gardens, accounting for nearly one-third of all the vegetables consumed in the country from 1942 to 1944. In 2009, First Lady Michelle Obama planted the first vegetable garden at the White House since Eleanor Roosevelt’s victory garden.

The White House garden provides food for the Obama family’s meals and state dinners but was designed to educate children about healthful, locally grown fruit and vegetables. Youth education is also the focus of a first-year community garden in Shelby County. A 57-foot-by-83-foot plot owned by the city and managed by the Parks Department became an outdoor classroom last summer for a new program launched by Purdue Extension. In a partnership with the Parks Department and Girls, Inc., three educators taught children ages 6-12 the basics of growing fruits and vegetables and their importance in a healthy diet.

 Most of the kids had no gardening experience. With the help of the Purdue Extension Shelby County staff and Master Gardeners, the children planted seeds, labeled the rows, and diligently studied and maintained the garden until school started in August. Scott Gabbard, agriculture and natural resources educator, focused on growing the garden, from hoeing to harvest; Diana Stone, county Extension director and consumer and family sciences educator, used it to teach food preparation and food safety; and Krista Bowlby, 4-H youth educator, led bug hunts and other creative learning activities.

youth preparing food
Shelby County youth spent their summer vacation raising a community garden. The children planted seeds, labeled rows and maintained the garden. After harvest, they learned how to prepare their bounty safely.

 The children learned to shuck corn and snap peas, and the educators were surprised at how open they were to sampling unfamiliar foods, from seasoned pumpkin seeds to fresh green beans to fruit pizza. The program ended with a scavenger hunt in a local grocery store, where the students tested their newfound knowledge in the produce section. "Hands-on learning is so much more effective," Stone says.

The teaching program used only a small portion of the garden’s production, and the bulk of it was given to the local Salvation Army. Support and donations from the Shelby County Co-op/Ace Hardware, Triton FFA and the Shelby County Ag Promotion Committee made the program a real cooperative effort, Gabbard says, and demonstrated goodwill between the agricultural community and the community at large.

The Shelby County Extension staff has already decided to continue the program in 2010. "It’s a lot of work, but the payoff is good," Gabbard says. He believes one of the best outcomes was how the children came to appreciate the effort behind bringing healthy produce to the table.

Burmese transplants get back to their roots            
In Allen County, Purdue Extension is involved in another community gardening education project. The audience isn’t youth but the nation’s largest settlement of Burmese refugees, most of whom live in extreme poverty in Fort Wayne apartment complexes without any space to garden. Yet they came from an agronomic society where they grew food to feed their families in enviable growing conditions.

"In Burma, they basically threw the seeds down, and it was so moist and warm, everything flourished easily," says Purdue Extension horticulture educator Ricky Kemery. Purdue Extension Allen County collaborated with the St. Joseph Community Foundation and city parks to help build 27 raised beds at the Burmese Advocacy Center in Fort Wayne.


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