A new community garden, unveiled today at the Columbus Boys and Girls Club on 14th Avenue North, is inspiring youngsters to one day plant their own.
“I think they’re finding a new passion for things they never knew about,” said Brittany Turner, Columbus club director.
According to Turner, about 15 of the 150 youth participating in the Columbus Boys and Girls Club’s programs have spent the past few weeks preparing and tending to an on-site garden made possible by a grant through Mississippi University for Women’s health initiative, Passport to Wellness.
“Every time we take a child out to the garden, we want them to be able to sow and reap what they grow successfully,” Turner said.
She said Boys and Girls Club applied for MUW’s “Sowing for Success” grant in early March and received the $5,000 award a month later. The club then used the money to buy plants and gardening supplies.
According to Passport to Wellness Program Director April Barlow, the Boys and Girls Club was one of three Golden Triangle recipients of the program’s first ever “Sowing for Success” grant, made possible by funding from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation. Other recipients included Annunciation Catholic School in Columbus and South Side Elementary School in West Point.
Barlow said MUW’s Passport to Wellness Program looked for local elementary schools and community centers with a plan for how to spread knowledge about nutrition and wellness and get kids involved in the process.
“It’s that youth programming portion that’s really important to us because we really want kids to benefit from this,” Barlow said.
Turner said one of the Boys and Girls Club’s key pillars is promoting a healthy lifestyle among their children, and she said the new garden will help grow that initiative.
Building it from scratch
The club members involved in the process, ages 9-11, built the garden from scratch, with help from Stacy Adams, club chef and food service director, and Nicole Canallare, a volunteer with five years of planting experience who studies culinary arts at MUW and who has helped maintain a garden at Annunciation Catholic School.
“I love working with the kids,” said Adams, who graduated from MUW’s culinary school in 2014. “It gives me time to be one on one with them and share with them my knowledge and even things I’m still learning.”
He said gardening teaches the kids responsibility and gives them something toward which to direct their time and energy.
“I’ve pretty much been advising, and they’ve done all the hard work,” Adams said.
Johnavon Leech, 11, of Columbus said he helped position cinder blocks to form the garden bed’s barrier, filled the blocks with soil and planted everything from herbs, okra and squash to cucumbers, bell peppers and tomatoes.
“I’m looking forward to picking the tomatoes and hot peppers,” Leech said.
While he’s seen his dad plant a garden, Leech said he’s never had a hand in preparing one himself, and now he hopes to sow his own in the future.
That’s the reaction Canallare was hoping for.
“There’s nothing fresher than what’s growing in your own backyard,” she said. “I hope the kids enjoy it. I know for me, I just like them to get outside. This is another way for them to get outside and learn about where their food comes from. I hope it will get them interested in what they’re eating.”
Adams said many of the garden’s fruits and vegetables should be ripe for the picking within a month’s time, and he plans to use the produce in meals he cooks for the children. Turner hopes as the garden expands the Boys and Girls Club of Columbus can share its successes with the surrounding community.
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