Extension office working to cultivate a Community Garden

By Joseph McCain The Winston County Journal

The Winston County Board of Supervisors approved recently to invested $5000 in a community garden education program.

Winston County Extension Director Mike Skipper proposed the program as an idea to tackle health and economic issues in the county. “This is an educational project that is a positive investment in the community,” said Skipper.

According to Skipper, the education project will be a way to promote healthy eating, active living, money saving and money earning among community members. In addition to the county helping to finance, Farm Bureau has donated funds and the Master Gardeners and Extension office will be teaching gardening classes.

The planned community garden aims to be a place where neighbors can gather to cultivate plants, vegetables and fruits so that they can improve nutrition, physical activity, community engagement, safety and economic vitality for the whole community.

Unhealthy communities bear greater costs One of the goals of the program will be to enhance healthy living in the community.

“The foods raised could be used for the families involved or to help needy families in the area,” said Skipper.

Either way the program aims to get everyone to eating healthier and being active through the gardening of the healthy foods.

Sixty-five percent of adults in the U.S. are over- weight or obese, and more than 33 percent of children and adolescents are obese or at risk for becoming obese. Skipper noted that those numbers hold true for Mississippi as well and this program could be one step in the right direction to turn around such numbers in the state.

For adults, the potential health consequences of obesity include cardiovascular disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and some cancers. Obese children are at a greater risk than normal- weight children for developing type 2 diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, sleep apnea and orthopedic problems.

In addition to the potential health consequences, obesity creates a substantial economic burden for the U.S. The direct and indirect health costs associated with obesity are estimated at $117 billion per year, nationwide, in the form of worker absenteeism, health care premiums, co-payments and out-of-pocket expenses.

Community garden program benefits communities The community garden planned by the extension office would be setup as raised bed gardens with about 25 to 30 available spots on the plot of land selected on Old Robinson Road.

“Groups and families could chose to work a plot and learn from our classes and Master Gardeners,” said Skipper.

Skipper hopes the program would involve everyone especially the youth who could benefit the most from the program.

“This is an opportunity to get hands dirty and learn the techniques to grow your own food,” said Skipper.

Skipper outlined that the program would give food security and access to many who do not have it at the moment.

The major benefits according to Skipper are: • Community gardens provide residents of underserved communities the opportunity to grow their own fruits and vegetables, increasing access and affordability. • Provide physical activity. The U.S. Surgeon General, along with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Sports Medicine, recommends getting a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most days of the week for adults and 60 minutes of moderately or vigorously intense activity most days of the week for children and adolescents. Gardening is a recommended form of moderate physical activity. Community gardening can encourage more active lifestyles by providing children and adults the opportunity to exercise by stretching, bending, walking, digging and lifting tools and plants. • Provide environmental understanding and overall education Hands-on exposure to community gardens can teach children about the sources of fresh produce, demonstrate community stewardship and introduce the importance of environmental sustainability. Gardens are also great places for children to learn math, business and communication skills through applied activities and interaction. Integrating environment-based education into academic programs improves reading, math, science and social studies test scores and reduces discipline problems in the classroom. • Beside the gardening aspect, the garden program may provide an increase in community property value since green space adds property value to neighborhoods by beautifying spaces and creating more attractive places for people to walk and enjoy life outdoors.

“I think this investment by the county and Farm Bureau and all involved will be a win-win,” said Skipper.

Skipper plans to begin the raised beds construction next week and along with those plans the extension service is offering several classes upcoming.

A few of the upcoming learning opportunities are: February 21 Basic of Growing Perennials In Your Garden. The perfect plants in the right places will make your garden nearly maintenance free. March 21 is the Amazing World of Azaleas. Azaleas are native to many parts of the World. Proper selection and care will provide blooms from early Spring until first frost. April 18 Gardening for Birds and Butterflies. Select plants to attract Birds and Butterflies to your garden. May 16 Everything Coming Up Roses. June 20. Daylilies, Summer Flowers with Pizzazz—- Nothing brightens up the summer garden like the poor man’s. July 18 Crazy about Crapemyrtles. Crapemytles are a worldwide phenomenon, not just a butchered plant in someone’s yard. August 15 The Good , the Bad, and the Ugly of Shade Gardens’. September 19 Water Gardens. Water Gardens will add a new dimension to your landscape. October 17, Angel Trumpets: Brugmansia to Brag About. Learn about this tropical plant and how to make if in your night garden for beautiful flowers and wonderful fragrance. November 21 Shade Trees in the Home Landscape: Selection, Planting and Care, Plant the right tree to plant in the right place to grow the perfect shade in a hurry.