Uniting Hands, Growing Community, Planting the Future

Muhammad Ali Center Peace Grant, 2011:

Dedicated to being part of the solution to end world hunger, Yum! Brands, Inc. sponsored this grant opportunity to bring
gardens to children across the country as a way for them to learn about different cultures and address local hunger issues.
As a grant winner, the HCG looks to teach youth important life skills and break the cycle of hunger by empowering children with the knowledge of how to feed themselves and others in their community.

Since our program began this Spring 2011, we have had multiple interactions with area children, teaching them about the culture of plants, soil, and gardening. Our last day was August 12th, the Friday before school resumed. It was quite a lot of fun for both the kids and us volunteer teachers. Here is our photogallery, or you can view them on Facebook.

Below you will find our project description as written within our grant application:

The volunteer group Huntington Community Gardens (HCG), in cooperation with the A.D. Lewis Center, the Barnett Center, Marshall University (MU), and the West Virginia State University (WVSU) Agricultural Extension Office, look to create an Afterschool Gardening Program for at-risk children, with the ultimate goal of providing cooperative learning opportunities on subjects such as nutrition, basic gardening, biology, environmental sciences and culinary arts, as well as empowering students to create and enjoy peaceful green safe spaces.

If awarded, the Muhammad Ali Center’s Peace Garden grant would supply these students with desperately needed gardening materials necessary for our outdoor learning activities.

This project will be implemented at the A. D. Lewis Center, an established community site with a strong afterschool/summer program which reaches 50-100 at-risk K-12 students each day. This facility is located within the City of Huntington’s Fairfield area, which hosts over 60% of the crime, 38.5% of the juvenile arrests for drugs and crimes, and 50% of the juvenile arrests for robbery. Residents are predominantly African American (over 70%) and many live below poverty level (over 36%). Fairfield can be deemed a food desert, as healthy affordable food is difficult to obtain. However, obesity is a serious citywide health threat with over 70% of adults overweight; Huntington ranked first for diabetes and fifth for heart disease, qualities which led to our title of "Fattest City" given by the AP Press in 2008. Yet our 11% low birth weight is well above the national average. One element ties all these seemingly conflicting statistics: poverty. The A. D. Lewis Center was established to create a safe space and community resource for area at-risk children, of which over 89% qualify for free or reduced lunches. These children will be offered the opportunity to participate in our HCG Afterschool Gardening Program and we anticipate at least 25-30 will choose to join.

Our leadership team will consist of: WVSU Extension Agent, Melissa Stewart; HCG Project Coordinator, Jennifer Williams; and HCG Assistant Coordinator, Eve Marcum-Atkinson. Numerous area volunteers will also help share their expertise with the students, including HCG members, Cabell County Master Gardeners, and MU Students. All participating adults will do so on either a volunteer basis or through the funding of other programs. "Garden Day Camps" will be scheduled for specific school in-service days or during the summer. Other "Garden Times" will be scheduled after school or during the weekend so as to not conflict with school sporting events. Our goal is to ensure that students who wish to participate will have the continued opportunity and that volunteers who want to help can find the time consistently.

By working with the WVSU Agricultural Extension Agents, students will learn from both the NGA materials and the Junior Master Gardeners program, which teaches a child-focused science-grounded curriculum on raising fresh produce, "beneficial insects" versus "pests", and basic nutritional concepts. This program is also specially geared to teach children to cooperate, respect themselves, their community, and nature. To find out more about the JMG program, go to: www.jmgkids.us.

The HCG will utilize established sites at the Barnett Center Learning Garden (30' x 50'), the Maudella Taylor Garden (80' x 80'), and the Children's Peace Garden (30' x 100'). As each site offers a variety of food and flower, the growing participant base will have a broad safe environment within which to learn and play. Students will choose varieties and planting sites based on light, water and harvest duration, plus help clear areas and maintain beds. Although we will focus primarily on fruit and vegetable production, some flowering pollinator-attractors will be included.

The MU Science Department donated the use of three rooms in their greenhouse, which the HCG has used to grow many plants for our use and for donation to the community, funding soil and fertilizer supplies by selling herbs to area restaurants. WVSU will soon be installing a greenhouse at the Barnett Center. Our students will have a chance to start from seed the plants they choose for their garden and learn about horticultural entrepreneurship.

By working in cooperation with WVSU’s FNEP nutrition program at the Barnett Center, students will learn how to make delicious nutritious dishes out of their harvest.

Sustainability will be ensured through our many continued partnerships, as well as through HCG’s produce and herb sales, supported in part by the efforts of our program participants.

Through educational empowerment, hand-grown nutrition, and exposure to nature, our students will learn and practice peaceful healthy habits for mind, body, and community.

Multicultural "Peace":

Our program will promote a multicultural atmosphere by discussing global food production and how different climates and cultures produce different harvests, such as Pistachios in Afghanistan, Dates in Egypt, Grapes in Italy, and Corn in the Americas. Donations of some of these “international foods” will be requested from area stores, so that students can “sample the globe”. In addition, as the majority of our student base will be at-risk minority children, providing equal opportunities for learning with plenty of encouragement and support is essential. Taking interest in their efforts, answering questions, and giving positive reinforcement will go a long way to building esteem and allowing learning to happen.

The concept of Peace will be promoted through a multi-pronged approach, centered on food and gardening. Understanding other customs and cultures becomes easier when one tastes their food. By encouraging inclusion and acceptance through global perspectives, students will be more likely to reach out to new or seemingly “different” people in their neighborhoods. By clearing away weeds, working the soil, growing their own plants, and tasting the fruit of their labors, students will find the personal peace of mind one gains when creating green spaces. By doing so as a group, students will learn to work together as a community, achieving goals and sharing the gardens and harvest with those closest to them.

Hunger and Nutrition:

The Junior Master Gardener program and the WVSU Extension’s FNEP program both will provide extensive nutrition curriculum resources for this program. By bringing the student from soil and seed to sautéed squash, we look to empower them to make more nutritious choices. Poverty is a serious problem for most of our students with over 80% qualifying for free or reduced lunches. The fact that Fairfield is a food desert with no grocery stores does not help the matter. Gas station convenience stores and fast food establishments were their only options for decades. In 2009 the Ebenezer Medical Outreach Center created a seasonal Friday Farmer’s Market, which helped provide a local resource for produce, but they are only open from 10am-3pm on seasonal Fridays. Many Fairfield children know what it is like to go hungry. By empowering these children to grow their own produce, they can help feed themselves, and for many this would be a real success. Combining this with education on the effects of good nutrition versus bad nutrition, students will come to understand the importance of eating a well balanced diet. Discussions on global hunger issues will help to frame the impact and importance on food producing gardens and its affect on any community.