By Alicia McDaniel, Cabarrus REACH Project
Over the last two years, the Cabarrus Health Alliance (CHA) has supported local community garden efforts through funding provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) grant. Community gardens by design foster relationships, present the opportunity for hands on learning and skill development as well as provide access to fresh fruits and vegetables. It is for these reasons that the REACH community garden program will continue into the 2018 year.
Participants of the community garden program receive supplies, training and technical assistance at no charge. Through collaboration between CHA and the Cabarrus County Cooperative Extension, each garden is provided with tailored support to help improve operations, community engagement and harvest yields. It is the hope of the program that the gardens will sustain and expand their contribution to help alleviate the burden of food insecurity in Cabarrus County as well as empower local organizations to partner and become active agents in the fight against hunger.
For the residents at Serenity House, a Hope Haven Incorporated transitional living facility for adult men who have recently completed a substance abuse treatment program, the garden has been an avenue to be reintegrated into the community and exercise life skills that aid them in their recovery journey.
Serene Sowers of Victory Community Garden at Serenity House, Concord, NC
“People who have self-discipline find it easier to delay gratification because they know that the end result will be worth the wait,” said Mark Sturgis, Serenity House Program Manager. “We believe that gardening will definitely assist our clients with improving in these vital areas of life skills.”
Together the men and staff have expanded their garden from two to six 4ft by 12ft raised beds, growing tomatoes, watermelon, broccoli, kale, and collard greens. All the produce harvested is being integrated into house prepared meals and donated to their community pantry, Harriet B. Stafford’s Operation Breadbasket.
In Cabarrus County, “there are at least 5 major community garden efforts and numerous smaller efforts producing literally tons of produce that quickly enter the charities pipeline and is a higher quality than other sources of produce,” said David Goforth, Horticulture Expert and REACH Community Garden Trainer.
The Community Garden at Centergrove Road Church of Christ, Kannapolis, NC
The REACH grant has assisted seven locations revive and expand their existing garden and four locations have started new gardens. As of August 2017, the gardens had collectively donated over 10,000 pounds of produce to food recovery programs such as Cooperative Christian Ministry and Feed the Souls Food Pantry. As a result, access to fresh produce has increased for over 50,000 Cabarrus County residents.
Though all the community gardens operate differently, their desire to give back and make a difference through growing quality produce is their common thread.
“If the clients these charities help are going to benefit from all the health advantages of consuming fresh produce, they need a good experience the first time so they will eat vegetables more than once. I hope I helped make that happen,” said David Goforth.
It is safe to say that he successfully has and alongside the various community garden partners, will continue to build community and combat hunger one harvest at a time.