Brandy Orlando, Peterson, Grace
News Release Distributed 10/15/15
SHREVEPORT, La. – The metropolitan area of Shreveport and Bossier City suffers from a problem becoming increasingly common in Louisiana – lack of significant access to nutritious food.
Grace Peterson, LSU AgCenter area nutrition agent, said there are four major barriers to acquiring healthful food. One is the lack of physical access because there is not a food outlet in the local community. The others are the high cost of nutritious food, lack of knowledge of how to make nutritious food choices and lack of the skills needed to prepare food in a healthful manner.
“Bringing the rich tradition and agricultural knowledge of extension into an urban setting in the form of community and home gardens can address these challenges,” Peterson said.
And that’s what Peterson did in 2009. She facilitated the formation of the Red River Coalition of Community Gardeners, a group of area volunteers committed to addressing these barriers through education and community engagement.
The coalition creates and maintains community gardens in the Shreveport/Bossier area.
“Using sustainable practices, we grow healthy food, provide education for healthy lifestyles, and empower people to share their unique contributions,” Peterson said. “Our vision is that everyone in the Shreveport/Bossier area has access to community gardens, nutritious food, and the knowledge and skills necessary to sustain a fulfilling and healthy lifestyle.”
In addition to the community gardens, there is an extension educational program aimed at youth called Food Initiative Taskforce for Kids, or FIT for Kids, Peterson said. This effort involves after-school activities and a summer program. Coalition members volunteer to assist with FIT for Kids, too.
Peterson said the secret to the ongoing success of the coalition is that the members see themselves as a team. They meet regularly not only for garden maintenance but for fellowship. The LSU AgCenter is there to offer educational support. About 40 volunteers are in the coalition each year.
“It’s a matter of continually thinking of ways to engage people of all ages in the neighborhood,” Peterson said. “The success of the Red River Coalition of Community Gardens is inspirational and is significant in showing how the LSU AgCenter can engage diverse populations that are often difficult to reach and have an impact on the barriers to food access that face our communities.
“Our coalition members see that their vision is a big challenge. But we point out that lasting change can be slow – one seed, one person, one garden at a time,” Peterson said.