SNAP Seeds and Seedlings Grow Home Gardens in the Shenandoah Valley

by Liz Kirchner, Virginia SARE Outreach Coordinator and Healthy Food Access Project, Virginia Cooperative Extension Service, Northern District

Home garden food production – even if that means a tomato in a bucket – is widely recognized to contribute to household nutrition and self-reliance. Garden produce strengthens ties between neighbors as those tomatoes are swapped, and maintains traditional foodways as gardening stories, seeds, and cooking skills are shared. However, not everybody realizes that SNAP benefits can be used to purchase seeds and seedlings, a caveat to the 1973 Farm Bill gauged to help people plant gardens. To raise awareness – and home gardens, too – Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Health Food Access program will host a series of seedling planting events with food pantry clients throughout the spring.

We will begin in May, after the frost-free date. The project goal is to send SNAP clients and other food pantry participants home with a planted seedling and a mapped list of nearby SNAP retailers who sell seedlings. Retailers identified using the ArcGIS, Google Maps, and the Buy Fresh Buy Local Guide include Walmart, some Food Lions, independent groceries, and the Staunton, Dayton, Waynesboro, and Harrisonburg Farmers’ Markets. (Continue reading)

Virginia Voices: Let the stories be told

high tunnel greenhouse

The 31st Baptist Church Urban Farm Is supported by Virginia Cooperative Extension, USDA, Bon Secours, and Tricycle Gardens. A high tunnel greenhouse was recently installed in the community garden via the National Resources Conservation Service cost-share program. Photo provided by Dr. Morris Henderson.

By Joyce Latimer, Professor of Horticulture at Virginia Tech

The Virginia Cooperative Extension Community, Local, and Regional Food Systems Forum opened with a powerful success story of communication and cooperation between Brittany Council and Twandra Lomax-Brown of Virginia Cooperative Extension in Richmond City and the community told by Dr. Morris Henderson, pastor of the 31st Street Baptist Church in Richmond.

Dr. Henderson and his church have been feeding the hungry and homeless in their community since 1990 when the local soup kitchen closed. In 2009, Dr. Henderson had a great vision to use his church property, and members and volunteers to create a community garden that would help feed the citizens of Richmond and contribute to the eradication of food deserts in the city. The church founded the Darrel Rollins Memorial Community Garden in honor of a previous pastor at the church.

Dr. Henderson had church members with gardening experience, but he needed the depth and breadth of knowledge, technical assistance, and networking that VCE could provide to expand this community garden into a fully functional urban farm that could help address the food desert issue. Dr. Henderson approached Extension agents Council and Lomax-Brown for assistance. They connected him with Amber Morgan, 4-H youth development agent, and Joe Logan, youth family nutrition program associate, who provided individuals with information about youth programs and basic education on the selection, use, and nutrition of fresh produce. In addition, local Extension Master Gardeners provided basic educational resources such as soil sample kits and growing guidance and assistance, and worked with the Mayor’s Conservation Corps Youth summer interns to begin the actual work of forming of the community garden on the church property.

Continue reading>>

Developing the VCE Model of Community, Local, and Regional Food Systems

By Joyce Latimer, Professor of Horticulture at Virginia Tech

Most great projects start with a model. Our model began as a draft concept that the VCE Community, Local, and Regional Food Systems (CLRFS) steering committee developed using a wide array of literature with a focus on the Whole Measures for Community Food Systems and the C.S Mott Group’s model for community-based food systems.  After several iterations within our steering committee, we tested our model in an interactive mapping exercise conducted at the 2016 VCE CLRFS Forum held in Richmond VA. Our “mapping” activity launched the day’s event by way of setting up flip charts and questions for the participants to respond to as they entered the meeting room.  Our goal was to generate feedback and shared learning about the kinds of work we do and the impacts we believe we have in our communities.  These questions and prompts included:

Q1/flip chart: From your current work, what CLRFS-related issue or project are you most excited about?

Q2/flip chart:   What one impact do you most hope to see come to light from your CLRFS-related work?

VCE Model of Community, Local, Regional Food Systems - a work in progress from the CLRFS Forum.

VCE Model of Community, Local, Regional Food Systems – a work in progress from the CLRFS Forum.

Q3/CLRFS Graphic:   Where and how do you “do” the work?

The resulting graphic with dots and post-it notes not only shows how we work together across the food system through a number of support functions and processes, but it emphasizes where this work falls along the food system value chain. Lastly, this model emphasizes the value-based impacts that stem from a growing number of projects, programs, and research initiatives that cut across our departments, offices, and historical program areas in VCE.

The Steering Committee used feedback from the mapping exercise and the Forum participants to revise the model as shown below to use as a guide to organize our food systems work as we try to understand its breadth across the Commonwealth. We still consider our model a work in progress. For a printable copy of the model, visit http://www.pubs.ext.vt.edu/content/dam/pubs_ext_vt_edu/ALCE/ALCE-154/ALCE-154-PDF.pdf.

VCE CLRFS Model as evolved with input from other groups.

VCE CLRFS Model as evolved with input from other groups.

Virginia Cooperative Extension partners with Farmacy Garden

girl in garden

Brittney Linkous, 9, of Christiansburg smells Holy Basil at the New River Valley Community Health Center’s Farmacy Garden. In exchange for volunteering, her family harvests vegetables from the garden.

While “take two kale and call me in the morning,” is not exactly the prescription you would receive from a doctor at most health clinics, patients at the New River Valley Community Health Center do indeed receive a prescription to the New River Health District’s Farmacy Garden for doctor’s ordered physical activity and an injection of fresh fruits and vegetables.

The garden, encircled by a white picket fence and located directly behind the center, is a collaboration of Virginia Cooperative Extension, the supplemental nutrition assistance programs’ Women, Infants, and Children program, and the New River Health District.

On a recent Thursday evening community members gathered for a potluck at the garden where Extension agents were on hand for cooking and planting demos.

Continue reading >>