I’m thrilled that I could join Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan last week when we announced the recipients of the People’s Garden Grant Program in Baltimore, Maryland. The backdrop for the $60,000 grant announcement to Towson University was set at the Eat Healthy Live Healthy Urban Garden in the Cherry Hill neighborhood. Cherry Hill is an approximately one square mile, geographically isolated, food desert neighborhood. These residents are impoverished and experience some of the highest rates of chronic disease in Baltimore city.
Towson University received this grant so that People’s Gardens could be established by many communities throughout the Cherry Hill area. The garden projects which Towson University will select for the Baltimore area must demonstrate collaboration between two or more organizations within Cherry Hill working toward the betterment of the community. At least 200 community residents of all ages will be engaged as a result of the grant, including school children, adults and seniors. And at least four school gardens and four community gardens will be established with at least 2 raised (waist high) beds built to engage seniors.
I had the opportunity to meet and talk with Juanita Ewell, the manager of the Eat Healthy Live Healthy Urban Garden, who shared how she’s worked with youth and seniors living in the neighborhood to turn this once trash ridden and weed infested field into a space that the community can eat from. When I asked her how she learned to garden she replied, “I’ve grown into it.”
This grant was just one of ten grants awarded to support 155 “People’s Gardens” in neighborhoods from Maryland to Alaska. Bringing more garden projects to this and many other communities will greatly improve the resident’s access to locally grown, nutritious food. There are communities across the country – in both urban and rural areas – that will use the “seed money,” a.k.a. sub-grants created by the People’s Garden Grant Program, to gain access to healthier foods simply by growing it themselves.
There are a lot of communities that would like to create a People’s Garden, but they lack either the financial or educational means to fulfill this goal. As a matter of fact, we received 366 proposals, requesting $4.6 million to create or expand gardens through this grant program.
Unfortunately, we were not able to fund every proposal, however with this “seed money” we are able to facilitate the initial investment needed, $725,000 to be exact, for ten communities which we hope can make a big impact. If you’re interested in the specifics about the grant projects, we have information posted on the People’s Garden website. We’ll be updating our web pages as the projects move forward.