In a park in Houma, Louisiana, a city of nearly 34,000 residents in Terrebonne Parish, an unused space was given new life. It was transformed into a community garden by the Live Healthy Houma coalition, an action-oriented group of people brought together because of the LSU AgCenter’s Healthy Communities initiative.
Healthy Communities is an effort by AgCenter family and consumer sciences extension specialists and researchers, along with many partnering organizations across the state, to improve the health and nutritional status of Louisiana residents, who are among the least healthy people in the country, with high rates of obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure. Terrebonne Parish is one of 20 parishes in the state targeted for Healthy Communities programs.
The Houma project began in January of 2019, when AgCenter personnel held a public forum for local residents to determine what might be done to make the community healthier. Downtown Houma is a low-income area with 50% of the population eligible for food stamps and other federal nutrition programs. The people at the forum said their biggest concern was the lack of access to fresh and affordable fruits and vegetables, and a community garden would be a way to meet this need.
Out of this discussion the Live Healthy Houma group was formed to turn this concept into reality. The Terrebonne Parish recreation department made land available in Harmon Park downtown for the group to develop 25 garden beds of varying sizes. During its first year, volunteers planted and harvested an estimated 500 pounds of produce in these gardens, which was then donated to local food pantries to help feed community members in need.
The Harmon Park Community Garden is not only a means to increase access to fresh produce, it also serves as a learning site for children and adults. The garden welcomes school field days, where students are able to plant and harvest food. It also is the location for the Greauxing at Home program, a series of lessons that teaches families how to plant, harvest, cook and preserve food at home. This program is a collaborative effort of the AgCenter and the St. Francis Vegetable Garden, a nonprofit organization that assists with community gardens in the area.
Live Healthy Houma also secured community ownership through partnerships with local businesses. Several businesses donated items such as garden tools and plants, and each garden bed was sponsored by a local organization or club for a yearly recurring donation at a minimum of three years. Small plaques were created and placed at each garden to recognize the sponsor’s contribution. In just a few months, more than $6,000 was raised for the garden initiative through 23 local sponsors. The sponsorship fee helps cover gardening supplies and pays an employee of St. Francis Vegetable Garden to oversee garden maintenance and volunteer efforts.
The Harmon Park Community Garden is just the beginning for Live Healthy Houma. They next want to build a pavilion for respite and shade for gardeners and for cooking demonstrations. Because the garden sits in a city park, Live Healthy Houma is also planning to turn a nearby empty concrete slab into a basketball court so that kids and adults can be more physically active. The Live Healthy Houma group is finding solutions to increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables and ultimately create a healthier Terrebonne Parish.
Amanda Gibson is the extension nutrition agent with the SNAP-Ed Program in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes.
(This article appears in the summer 2020 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)
Area nutrition agent Amanda Gibson, left, and a volunteer build garden bed boxes at the Harmon Park Community Garden in Houma, Louisiana. Photo provided by Amanda Gibson
Community volunteers painted the garden bed boxes. Photo provided by Amanda Gibson
Terrebonne General Medical Center employees paint their sponsored garden bed box at the community garden. Photo provided by Amanda Gibson
Community volunteers plant produce at the grand opening celebration for the Harmon Park Community Garden in Houma, Louisiana. Photo provided by Amanda Gibson
Participants learned how to harvest produce, such as this broccoli, during the Greauxing at Home program, a series of lessons that teaches families how to plant, harvest, cook and preserve food at home. This program is a collaborative effort of the AgCenter and the St. Francis Vegetable Garden, a nonprofit organization that assists with community gardens in the area. Photo provided by Amanda Gibson
SNAP-Ed contributed signs for the gardens to help teach people about the health benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables. Photo provided by Amanda Gibson