Communities grow along with their gardens in Shreveport

Linda Benedict, Van Osdell, Mary Ann  |  9/29/2010 1:30:55 AM

Community gardens are blossoming in Shreveport neighborhoods and providing access to cheap, healthy food for the people who live there.

“We create community gardens, and we also create garden communities,” said Grace Peterson, LSU AgCenter extension agent, who has been the driving force behind this project.
Peterson was hired in October 2007 to head up an effort to create vegetable gardens in predominately low-income neighborhoods to help people learn gardening skills as well as provide a source of fresh, nutritious food. She is funded through the Family and Nutrition Program, which is a federal program coordinated in Louisiana by the LSU AgCenter.

Back then, four community gardens were already under way.

“But they were mainly flower gardens,” Peterson said.

Since then, six more community gardens have been established for a total of 10 in the program so far.

At first, she contacted local leaders in the neighborhoods about the benefits of community gardens. But once gardens were up and running and successful, people started coming to her with ideas for new gardens.

“I’m always looking to start more,” Peterson said.

To help community leaders learn to organize garden efforts, she set up training sessions on leadership and organizational skills.

Because of these training sessions, the Red River Coalition of Community Gardeners was established, a group of volunteers that has helped multiply the efforts to set up and maintain community gardens.

“The coalition’s mission is to create and maintain community gardens in the Shreveport-Bossier area, using sustainable practices, to grow healthy food, to provide education for healthy lifestyles and to empower people to share their unique contributions,” Peterson said.

A new effort in the summer of 2010 was the establishment of a summer program called Fit for Kids at one of the Shreveport recreation centers. Twenty children, aged 10-14, participated.

Peterson said the youth learned to garden and cook the food from the garden. She also taught lessons on leadership. To show off what they had learned, the group created two short videos that Peterson posted to YouTube called “Planting Green Beans Shreveport, LA” and “Valencia Park Stoner Hill Youth Garden.”

They also planned a spaghetti lunch and invited local dignitaries, including the mayor and city council members. “Two TV stations showed up and did stories,” Peterson said.

Mary Ann Van Osdell and Linda Foster Benedict

(This article was published in the summer 2010 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)

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