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2016 Links Team Up for Healthy School Gardens Grant Winners

Getting kids out in the garden is a great way to encourage healthful eating, exercise, and lifestyle choices while promoting strong social connections, community involvement, and skills like planning, problem solving and working together cooperatively. And it’s not just a kid thing! Adults working with young people in a garden reap all of these benefits too. That’s the idea behind one of our recent garden grant programs – the 2016 Links Team Up for Healthy School Gardens Grant, sponsored by Jamba Juice in cooperation with the Links Foundation, Inc.

Eighteen inspirational youth garden programs from around the country were selected to receive garden grant packages valued at $500 including one grand prize winner who will receive a package valued at $1,500.   Each of the grant recipients is working with members of their local chapter of The Links, Inc. to build a successful gardening program that will positively impact youth in their community. The Links Foundation is an international, not-for-profit volunteer service organization of more than 14,000 professional women of color with chapters in 41 states, Washington, D.C. and the Bahamas committed to enriching, sustaining and ensuring the culture and economic survival of African Americans and others of African ancestry. Links members contribute more than 500,000 documented hours of community service annually – strengthening their communities and enhancing the nation.

A full harvest at Tiger Academy!

The award winning garden programs were selected from across the country – from Florida to Oregon, California to Massachusetts. The innovative program at Tiger Academy Elementary School in Jacksonville, Florida took Grand Prize. The school’s Healthy LINK Community Garden is an inter-generational project involving senior citizens, adult volunteers, and teens, as well as elementary school aged children with the goal of getting everyone to eat a heathier diet, adopt a healthy lifestyle, and live stronger. With their grant funding award, the school plans to add 20 raised beds to the 10 they currently have, along with container plantings and a row of orange and grapefruit trees in the school’s back lot (oh, the pleasures of gardening in Florida!). These plantings will provide the basis for the development of a STEM-based school garden and nutrition education program. Links Foundation volunteers, teens in the Jacksonville-based I’m A Star Foundation, and local senior citizens will become collaborative partners with Tiger Academy students to plant, cultivate, and harvest the community garden. “Cook, chat, and chew” sessions will provide opportunities for inter-generational communication as children, teens, seniors, and Links volunteers meet to cook and eat food from the garden. Strong community connections will be forged by sharing half of the garden’s bounty with seniors and residents of a local low-income housing complex through a free farmer’s market at the nearby YMCA. The ultimate goal is to have the Links volunteers and students offer training sessions, sharing their gardening knowledge with the residents so that they can create their own rooftop and container gardens at their apartment complex.

Betty Seabrook Burney, Executive Director of the I’m A Star Foundation, notes that gardening can help reduce stress levels in teens; may reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack in the elderly and obesity in children by providing moderate exercise and healthful food; have a positive impact on school discipline through the cooperative and nurturing behavioral changes it encourages; and give everyone the chance to take a much-needed break from computer and TV screens and smart phones. Says Ms. Burney, “All aspects of the Healthy LINKS Community Garden will focus on health and wellness education.”

Youth from the New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church show off the foundation for their new garden bed.

Another grant award winning program focused on healthful eating is the New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church After-School Tutoring Program in Marshall, Texas. This program, which provides a “healthy eats” snack time to participating youth through its partnership with the church, the East Texas Chapter of the Links, Wiley College, and Texas A&M Agri-Life Extension Services, has added a “Green Giants” garden that will help connect kids to nature, inspire a love of eating fresh, home-grown fruits and vegetables, and provide interdisciplinary learning opportunities.

Saturday, February 11, of this year marked the first work day in the new garden. Eleven students, with help from adult volunteers, built a 4 x 8 foot raised bed and filled it with soil, in preparation for planting in March. The students are looking forward to growing tomatoes, squash, watermelon, cucumbers, lettuce and other greens.

The garden harvest will complement the healthful veggie and fruit snacks that the program already serves. Says project manager Linda Caldwell Bender, “Our program will improve nutrition and decrease the risk of food insecurity by teaching low-income children lessons in where food comes from, the importance of eating fruits and vegetables, and how to grow food through fun, hands-on activities. In addition to good nutrition, the physical exercise done to ready, plant, and maintain the garden is an avenue for increased health and wellness.”

The benefits of the “Green Giants” garden will reach beyond the after-school program. “These lessons will follow the children into their adult lives and encourage other family members to join in as well,” says Mrs. Bender. “It is an activity that encourages the participation of the whole family.” Save