Thursday, April 15, 2010
Sonya Lynch, program director at the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club, and her son stand in front of a vacant city lot in Champaign that will feed minds, spirits and bodies of area youth this summer.
Lynch, an avid gardener, is part of a new collaborative community garden effort that's part of an even larger plan to revitalize N. First Street in downtown Champaign and promote development -- all kinds of development.
Access to local food is one issue the North First Street Association and the city of Champaign have worked together to address, including the formation of a farmer's market last year on N. First Street.
In an arrangement between the city and the North First Street Association, the vacant lot across from Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation on north First Street is about to be turned into the N. First Street Prosperity Garden and it will be cared for by the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club.
One of those deeply involved in the project is Valerie McWilliams who is the managing attorney at Land of Lincoln. McWilliams said her organization got involved because it wants "to be a good neighbor and this seems like an obvious tool to promote good childhood nutrition and teach kids valuable lessons that will serve them the rest of their lives."
McWilliams needed the right person to work with the youth on gardening. Someone who is "very passionate about getting this garden up and running."
"I like to expose my youth to as many things as possible that are not the normal types of things," said Lynch. "They would not normally think of gardening as a way to become an entrepreneur."
Lynch coordinates a program called JUMP (Juvenile Upward Mobility Program) that works with at-risk youth ages 13-18. The youth from JUMP and three other groups will plant the garden, harvest the produce, learn how to cook it and sell some of it at the Historic North First Street Farmer's Market this summer.
"I hope that some of the children will become interested in gardening and nutrition as well as their families," Lynch said. "Maybe they'll even grow food at home when they realize it's not too hard. They can even grow it in a pot."
Master gardener Sandra Mason of the U of I Extension Master Gardeners, one of the project initiators, will help develop the curriculum with Lynch, and work alongside the kids. "Kids don't really understand where their food comes from," said Mason. "People just see the end of the process. There are life lessons in gardening including delayed gratification, teamwork and entrepreneurship."
[Left: Sandy Mason, U of I Extension Master Gardeners and TJ Blakeman, city of Champaign, stand on vacant land that will be turned into a community garden]
As currently envisioned, the garden will be planted in two-foot raised beds with plenty of walkways for children to get up close and personal with the earth and eventually their plants.
"We do a lot of good projects," Mason said, "but to me this one feels like things are really coming together. This is one of the best things we do. We're not just making the world pretty, but growing produce and improving lives."
The land, which is right next to railroad tracks, used to be owned by Texas Oil, according to TJ Blakeman, city planner in the advanced planning division of the city of Champaign, as well as one of the project initiators along with Mason and David Freeman, also a master gardener. Raised beds will avoid disturbing the soil, which according to a 1991 report found by the city, contained no harmful substances. Just to be sure, the city will do more sampling at three feet and six feet depths, according to Blakeman.
The Champaign County Regional Planning Commission, also involved in the project, serves many low-income people including people with disabilities, seniors and families. Darlene Kloeppel, social services director at the Commission, regularly assesses community needs and one of the things Kloeppel found is that "a lot of things are pointing to the fact that people do need basic needs taken care of," she said. "Money for transportation, housing and food."
Kloeppel secured a grant to pay for a project coordinator to work under Lynch and for stipends to pay the youth for their gardening. Eventually, the youth will sell their produce at the farmer's market on N. First Street.
For more information on this project, contact McWilliams at firstname.lastname@example.org or 217-356-1351.
Kimberlie Kranich, author of this blog post, is director of community engagement at Illinois Public Media and may be reached at kranich@illinois or 217-244-5072.
Thursday, April 8, 2010
What I have learned as an adult is that my experience with gardening is rare. Everyday I meet more and more people who do not have these experiences as part of their past. For many people, especially those who grew up in larger cities, apartments, or in poverty, vegetables are identified with cans, not gardens. I find this not only heartbreaking, but a disturbing and dangerous trend.
As the administrator of Champaign-Urbana Public Health District I find myself faced with an epidemic that is unique to our time and our culture. While Public Health has steadily increased life expectancies in the developed world through sanitation and vaccination, we now find ourselves faced with an epidemic caused not by an infectious disease but by a lifestyle. The epidemic of obesity is killing hundreds of thousands of people through diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and cancer. For the first time in history, children born now can expect to live 10-20 years less than the generation before them. Our healthcare system is overwhelmed with fighting the diseases and conditions that are caused by obesity. This epidemic is not something that can be fixed with a vaccination or a pill. This epidemic is going to require changes in the way we think about food and our future. It is going to require us all to search our souls and decide if we are comfortable with lowering the life expectancy of our children. We need to ask ourselves if it is ok to feed our children highly processed foods filled with salt, sugar and fat that are killing them.
What we need is a cultural shift away from “convenience” and back toward “sustainable”. Increasingly our lifestyles have focused on fast, more, easier, cheaper. This is not sustainable for our health, our psyche, our economy, or our planet. In central Illinois we are fortunate to live in a place that has some of the best soil in the entire world. What do we do with that resource? We cover it in grass and feed it a steady diet of herbicides, pesticides and fertilizer so we can cut it and throw the clippings into landfills. What if we decide to change that? What if we slowly start turning the soil over and planting fruits and vegetables where the grass was? What if those of us who know how to garden help those who don’t? What if we share our seeds and our plants and our tools and our time? What if we invite others to garden with us? What if we share our surplus fruits and vegetables with our friends, co-workers, neighbors and schools? What if they love the taste of the fresh food? What if we then mentor and encourage our friends, co-workers, neighbors and schools to plant their own gardens? Could it be that we could change the culture? Could it be that addressing the epidemic of obesity could start with gardens? I believe it could!
If you are reading this and it brought back any happy memories for you, I encourage you to plant something today. Start some herbs in a bowl. Plant a tomato in a flower pot. Put a pepper plant next to your tulips in your flower bed. Contact a community garden and get involved. Ask you child’s school if they have ever considered a kitchen garden to supplement the food in their lunch program. Talk to your church to see if some of their land could be used to start a teaching garden. Be bold and plow up some of your own yard and turn it into the future! Make a pledge now spread the healthful benefits that can come from putting a seed into the earth. Make sure your children can tell their children of the happy memories they made with you.
Champaign County has many resources to assist persons who are interested in growing some of their own produce. U of I Champaign County Extension is a great place to start! Local nurseries offer excellent and friendly advice on what to plant how to plant it. Our libraries have many gardening books, pamphlets, and computer access. C-U Fit Families has both a web page and a Facebook page to connect those who are interested in healthier living. We can stop this epidemic of obesity, but we all must do something. Take advantage of our beautiful weather, our fertile soil and our local expertise. Put a seed in the ground and see what change you can grow!
Julie Pryde is administrator of Champaign-Urbana Public Health District and may be reached at email@example.com.
Thursday, April 1, 2010
Next, I asked Dr. Knight about his vision for community health, specifically childhood health and wellness. In his opinion, what could our community do to reverse this trend and prevent childhood obesity?
Prior to my conversation with Dr. Knight, I hadn't considered how employers benefit from a healthy community and healthy children. Dr. Knight pointed out that parents of healthy children take less sick time and employers have lower health-care-related expenses.
Dr. Knight's insights were enlightening and renewed my conviction to childhood wellness and obesity prevention. My experiences with C-U Fit Families have taught me a great deal about shared responsibility and collective energy. As a member of a group, I know I am not alone...everyone in C-U Fit Families plays an important role. In the words of Dr. Knight, "Working together we can achieve the goal, but it is not going to be quick and fast. It won't necessarily be easy, but in the end, it will be a great thing to achieve."
Molly Delaney, Educational Outreach Director for Illinois Public Media
Learn more about what you can do to fight childhood obesity by contacting C-U Fit Families at firstname.lastname@example.org.