Extension Gardening Outreach Programs Change Lives
By Katie Nichols
A spirit-lifting mentorship. A box of fresh produce. Fresh vegetables to help a struggling family eat nutritious meals. Outreach is a pivotal part of Alabama Extension’s land-grant mission. Through community projects and outreach programs, local gardeners, 4-H members and Master Gardeners (MG) are making a difference.
For colon cancer survivor Helen Bretz, Harvest for Health — a partnership with the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Comprehensive Cancer Center — helped her find herself again after 24 rounds of chemotherapy. The program matches survivors with a ready-to-go gardening kit and an MG volunteer-mentor so survivors can experience the benefits of gardening with expert advice.
“I had two incredible and uplifting mentors,” Bretz said. “The relationships with them are special. They helped me find my love of gardening, and it breathed life into my tired body as I worked alongside them.”
Grow Another Row
As many Alabamians found themselves at home for long stretches during the pandemic, Alabama Extension home grounds agents looked for a way to bring communities together to meet a need. Food insecurity is an issue many Alabama families face. Extension is helping communities meet that need with fresh produce from a neighbor’s backyard garden through Grow More Give More (GMGM). GMGM provides tailored gardening instructions through webinars, seminars and online publications. Home gardeners work to grow bumper crops and share their bounty with others.
Bethany O’Rear, a home grounds agent in north Alabama, said produce donations through GMGM are plentiful during summer but more difficult to come by during fall and winter.
“Food insecurity is an issue 365 days a year,” O’Rear said. “Fall and winter gardening is productive and helps fill nutritional gaps when packaged foods become the bulk of what food banks and community kitchens have to share by default.”
GMGM donations are important because fall and winter markets are not as full of local, more affordable produce as during the height of the summer season.
In addition to Master Gardeners and others making a difference through GMGM, Alabama 4-H is digging into communities to provide locally grown produce. The four-tier program includes container gardening (Tier I), raised-bed gardening (Tier II), a produce business (Tier III) and a community-focused gardening program where 50% of garden produce is donated to a food assistance program (Tier IV).
Doyle Keasal, 4-H Grows program coordinator, said by investing their time in growing a garden and donating a portion of produce, 4-H youth are becoming leaders in their communities. Providing opportunities to help others who are less fortunate allows 4-H members to engage in civic-minded activities, pursue healthy living and develop life skills.