In the Garden:
Middle South
March, 2005
Regional Report

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Children are much more likely to eat vegetables they've grown themselves!

Growing Minds -- Healthy Bodies

The North Carolina Health and Wellness Trust Fund Commission recently awarded three local agencies a grant to fund their "Growing Minds -- Healthy Bodies Initiative." Children First's Emma Family Resource Center, MANNA Food Bank, and the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP) are collaborating on the program, the goal of which is to promote good nutrition and exercise, as well as combat obesity, in children and families in western North Carolina.

A Unique Partnership
What makes this initiative remarkable is the collaboration among agencies with different but complementary goals. The mission of Children First is "to improve the lives of children, youth and their families...." ASAP strives to "create and expand regional community-based and integrated food systems that are locally owned and controlled...." And the goal of MANNA Food Bank is to "involve, educate, and unite people in the work of ending hunger in WNC." All lofty goals in themselves, but the real power and potential of this new initiative is in the synergy of the collaboration.

For example, one component of the initiative is the implementation of an Electronic Benefits Transfer System (EBTS) at local farmer's markets (called tailgate markets here), enabling food stamp recipients to purchase fresh, local produce and other farm products. Everyone wins -- families get wholesome, nutritious foods, and farmers expand their markets. What a simple yet powerful change to the system. Synergy!

Another component is referred to as the "backpack program," in which teachers fill children's backpacks with fresh produce and other healthful foods to take home with them. Needy families that may not be taking advantage of the food bank are introduced to its bounty through their children.

And complementing these are the initiative's gardening, exercise, and nutrition education programs at Emma Elementary School, which will introduce and reinforce the benefits of a healthful lifestyle.

About Emma
The focus of the initiative is the community of Emma, in West Asheville. Emma is the most ethnically diverse neighborhood in Buncombe County, and it also has one of the highest rates of poverty. I visited the Emma school garden and resource center last fall, and was both touched and awed. The director of the school garden, Emily Jackson, explained how the children at Emma Elementary grow vegetables specifically for the food shelf at the adjoining resource center; the center's clients are even invited to walk over to the garden and harvest what they need. Talk about fresh produce! And the school children set aside sections of the garden for some of the unusual vegetables and herbs favored by the various nationalities served by the resource center. What a wonderful way to introduce children to their neighbors, expand their palates, and build their community. The new grant will allow the resource center to expand its food pantry and community gardens, as well as enable them to create promotional materials in several different languages.

With grant money as scarce as it is, nonprofits must be creative in financing their programs. The Growing Minds -- Healthy Bodies Initiative is a perfect example of such creativity. Rather than competing for dollars, these complementary nonprofit groups are working together. And I suspect it will be a fruitful collaboration.


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