Healthy Food Production By, and For, Food-Insecure Rural Families

This post was contributed by Grayson LandCare:

Earthbox Beans

           An Earthbox® Planted with Beans           (Photo Courtesy of Grayson Landcare)

Grayson LandCare was the recipient of one of three of the Appalachian Foodshed Project’s Community Enhancement Grants in Virginia. Grayson LandCare, based in the Blue Ridge Plateau region of Southwest Virginia, is a community-based organization driven by a vision of a vibrant community working together to improve the local economy and environment through sustainable practices.

In accordance with this vision, Grayson LandCare proposed to create an EarthBox® program with the enhancement grant funds. The goal of the program is to empower food-insecure families to grow some of their own food, increase their intake of nutritious, fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables. The program also includes an emphasis on enhancing an understanding of the health benefits of a diet that includes fresh local produce.

Using the enhancement grant funds, Grayson LandCare gave 50 low-income families an EarthBox® during the summer of 2014. Through these efforts the families planted 8 green bean bushes last summer and harvested beans about 2-3 times. In the summer of 2015 each family reused their EarthBox®.

In early May 2015, a group of volunteers and 36 of the original participants gathered with the project crew for lunch and learning. Participants learned how to reuse spent soil from the previous year’s Earthboxes® to grow potatoes in containers, such as food-grade plastic buckets or fiber potato bags, and they learned how to grow lettuce and other shallow-rooted vegetables in roasting pans. They received fresh soil, fertilizer and bean seeds and learned how to re-plant the EarthBox®. Later in May, tomato seedlings donated by Virginia Tech’s Kentland Farm were delivered to the program participants.

Additionally, members of the project team have followed up with participants at the monthly food distribution events, reporting good success and excitement from the gardening activities. Participants will be given garlic at the September event, to grow over the winter. We have the great good fortune of having a VA Tech Master’s student evaluating this project too. She has built relationships with participants and plans home visits to conduct in-depth interviews to determine whether participation in this food-growing project has extrapolated to other areas of their lives. We will use remaining funds to invest in supplies that can be used to keep program participants—and perhaps other rural families—engaged in growing healthy food.

 

Grayson LandCare is a locally organized group of farmers, landowners, and residents concerned about economic and environmental problems in Grayson County and southwest Virginia. Find out more by visiting their website.