Shaun Francis, an extension horticultural specialist for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, cites a senior center in Eudora as an example of the impact of the university’s outreach efforts in horticultural extension.
As part of a sustainable food systems project, UAPB extension staff helped set up a garden at the center.
“The Eudora Senior Citizens Center is not a residential center, rather it is a place where local seniors come by bus to interact, play card games and dominoes or knit,” said Francis. “After helping administrators set up a garden, the elderly began to eat fresh produce that they might not otherwise have had access to – cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs and spices, and collard greens, for example. example. “
Francis said the university’s horticultural outreach work strives to bring nutritious food to communities in food deserts, areas where people have limited access to affordable and nutritious food, especially vegetables and fresh fruit. Some people living in these mostly low-income communities have to walk more than a kilometer to the nearest supermarket.
“At UAPB, we try to partner with organizations that already have or want to create an urban garden,” he said. “We help set up the garden and then provide technical assistance as needed. “
HELP 8 COMMUNITY SITES
Currently, UAPB supports eight community gardens in central and southern Arkansas, which are run by organizations such as churches, community centers, and retirement homes.
Francis recently worked with the trustees of the St. John Alexander Tower, a low-income seniors’ facility in Pine Bluff, on a garden.
“The administrators see the opportunity of gardening as a kind of horticultural therapy for their elderly residents, who are able to manage the garden and help with the harvest,” he said. “Most of the harvested produce will be used for cooking classes at the center run by the UAPB Supplementary Nutritional Assistance Program Education. Through the program, residents learn to prepare easy and nutritious recipes using fresh produce.
The Barraque Street Baptist Missionary Church in Pine Bluff is another example of an organization that recently asked UAPB for help in setting up a community garden.
“Church members are responsible for the upkeep of the garden,” said Francis. “They plan to share the produce among community members and will also be holding cooking classes. Lately they are harvesting cucumbers and squash.”
Other recent collaborations for Francis include a group of Little Rock women who want to grow sweet potatoes, as well as a woman growing peas, greens and sweet potatoes that she distributes to her neighbors. He has also started to meet with a group of pastors who are planning to create a garden to distribute food to locals who need fresh produce.
Francis provides on-site technical assistance when garden managers need help. They may worry about leaf spots or have questions about watering or fertilizing. Recently he helped garden owners when they said their tomatoes and peppers were wilting.
“They said they used a planting medium made from composted rice husks,” he said. “However, I realized that the material was too porous – every time they watered, the water was just washed away. And because the material wasn’t completely composted, the plants were starved of their nitrogen, which explained their pale appearance. In the At the end, I helped them dig up the old planting material and replace it with a ‘super potting’ substrate made from real composted material. “
Francis said successful community gardens require consistency and constant maintenance.
“There were times when we helped create gardens in organizations that ended up failing because people had too little time or too few volunteers,” he said. “If you want to build a community garden that lasts, it’s important to work with a group of people you can count on to nurture it.
Francis said he was happy to see more community members wanting to contribute to sustainable local food systems in and around Pine Bluff.
“The people who create these gardens are professionals who want to make a statement,” he said. “They want to make a difference by making sure their neighbors and other community members have access to healthy food. And that’s exactly the kind of projects UAPB wants to help grow.
For more information on UAPB’s Sustainable Food Systems Initiative, contact Francis at (870) 543-0029 or [email protected]
Will Hehemann is a writer / editor at the School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Humanities at UAPB.
The Barraque Street Baptist Missionary Church in Pine Bluff is an example of an organization that recently enlisted the help of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff to create a community garden. (Special for The Commercial / University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff)