Church embraces garden

Seniors program provides community, food in north BR

Scotlandville resident Eddie Mae Herbert can remember when gardening was a way of life and not just a casual hobby for families in her neighborhood.

“I used to garden years back,” said Herbert, a member of the H.B. Williams Senior Citizen program at the New Light Missionary Baptist Church on Blount Road in Scotlandville.

Many other members of the senior program said they grew up gardening or helping their parents grow crops on area farms.

When the Southern University Ag Center offered to help Herbert and seniors at the center build and plant a community garden in March, members jumped on board.

“There’s so much excitement, and it has motivated us to do a fall garden,” said Mable Franklin, director of senior programs at the senior center. “I grew up in a family that raised a garden.”

Southern University Ag Center’s extension associate for community gardening, Stephanie Elwood, delivered vegetable seeds, including tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash for the church garden, and worked with members to establish a raised bed for planting.

“The garden provides the seniors in the church opportunities to exercise and eat healthy,” she said.

It also addresses the food desert problem plaguing the Scotlandville area, said Owusu Bandele, former Ag Center professor who is helping with the gardening project.

“Food deserts are areas where there is poor public transportation, supermarkets offering fresh fruits and vegetables are lacking, and folks often live more than a mile from supermarkets,” he said. “The way to get quality produce into people’s hands is to grow organic gardens.”

The vegetables often show up on the day’s vegetable menu at the senior center or in the hands of seniors in the community, Bandele said.

Bandele said Southern’s Ag Center has also set up community gardens in Donaldsonville and at area prisons. “There has been a big emphasis on community gardening,” he said.

Elwood said the process of helping the seniors grow the garden started in March when seniors were taught how to plant the seedlings. They then began meeting at the center in Scotlandville to tend their vegetable garden, citrus trees and ornamental sunflowers.

Senior citizen participant Leatha Grant, who grew up on a farm, said the garden is important to the community. “It’s something I feel is needed,” she said.

Though she grew up on a farm, Grant said, she moved from Independence to Baton Rouge to attend college. She said many other people she grew up with moved from rural communities to get jobs or go to school in urban communities where they often turned to grocery stores to get their vegetables and fruits.

Jessie Riley, a senior participant with the garden, said it’s time for gardening to make a comeback.

“Coming up, that’s all people had (gardens) and now, not too many people do gardening,” she said.

Senior citizen Robert Butler said economics could play a part in families paying more attention to planting community gardens again. He plants collard, mustard and turnip greens in his home garden. “It makes ends meet, and it saves money,” he said.

Members will continue their plantings in the fall with broccoli, cabbage, onions, beets, lettuce and more, said Franklin.