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When members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians can’t make it to their local extension office, their extension office comes to them—with a gift of better health through home gardening.
Kevin Welch, a Federally-Recognized Tribal Extension Program (FRTEP) educator at North Carolina State University, developed a garden wagon to reach more members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) with community garden information. Many of the local Cherokee communities are fragmented across five of the most remote counties in the Appalachian Mountains of Western North Carolina.
USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) funds FRTEP, which supplies assistance to American Indian farmers and ranchers, supports 4-H and youth development programs, and provides education and outreach on tribally-identified priorities in a culturally-sensitive way.
“The U.S. Census identified 34 percent of the EBCI as living in poverty. Families don’t have access to enough healthy, affordable food, so local diabetes rates are very high— nearly one-third of the population. The effects ripple out to everyone and touch every Cherokee family,” said EBCI Extension Agent Sarah McClellan-Welch. “The garden wagon gives people in these communities access to information that they wouldn’t otherwise receive and the training that can be critical to their health and food security. Our survey shows that when Cherokee people raise a garden at home they also eat more fresh vegetables and engage in more physical activity.”
The two Extension educators have used the garden wagon to deliver 15 educational programs to more than 4,000 Cherokee people of all ages. Their hands-on teaching method has included sensory exploration of traditional crops for preschoolers-a technique using their senses to explore the smells, textures and sounds-, heirloom gardening and art for youths, seed starting and active games for families, and traditional food tastings for teens and adults.
Many of the Extension providers use their FRTEP funding to establish a presence and seek other grants to support special initiatives. The garden wagon, for example, was purchased through grant funds from the American Association of Indian Physicians’ Healthy, Active, Native Communities program, the Sacred Fire Foundation and private donations.
Through federal funding and leadership for research, education, and Extension programs, NIFA focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people’s daily lives and the nation’s future. More information is available at: www.nifa.usda.gov.