Community gardens get growing in the Dan River Region - WSLS 10 NBC in Roanoke/Lynchburg Va

Community gardens get growing in the Dan River Region

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By Tara Bozick

Watch for several community gardens popping up in the Dan River Region — and as many as four in Danville — as part of a way to cultivate healthier people.

One garden will be at The Crossing at the Dan, where gardeners can plant, maintain and harvest their own plots at no cost, said Jacob McCann, Crossing program director.

Community gardens evolved as an idea for a way to reduce obesity in the region from a subcommittee of The Dan River Region Obesity Task Force last year. According to Danville Regional Foundation’s 2009 Regional Report Card, nearly one-third of adults in Danville and Pittsylvania County are obese.

On Friday, about 45 people attended the task force’s “Community Garden Forum” to develop plans and discuss everything from how to get volunteers and funding to incorporating education and measuring how the gardens improve health.

Virginia Tech’s Department of Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise is the academic partner in the task force comprising local organizations and people, said assistant professor Jamie Zoellner. The task force formed in October 2009 and the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth provided $59,000 for its further development and planning.

Zoellner would like to use the region’s community gardens to fill the gaps in research on how such gardens affect residents’ health. Many expert opinions agree community gardens improve health, but the evidence in scientific literature is weak or lacking.

Those measurable results could help in applying for future grants, she added.

“If the community could build the evidence around this, it could become a model for the nation,” said Martha Walker, community viability specialist in the Danville office of the Virginia Cooperative Extension.

Participants agreed community gardens would not just improve access to local fresh food, but would also encourage physical activity and promote behavioral and diet changes, science and nutrition education and socialization. Walker said it could also beautify vacant lots.

“Fresh-picked vegetables just taste better,” said Stuart Sutphin, extension agent in the Danville office.

Sutphin’s children never ate squash until he raised it in the garden, he added. Plus, gardening builds skills and can be tied to standards of learning for science in the schools, he said.

One challenge will be getting participants to stay with the garden project, Sutphin said.

“It takes work to raise a garden,” he said.

• The Crossing at the Dan Community Garden, with 12 4-foot by 8-foot plots, can serve as a demonstration model for others who might want to copy the concept in their neighborhoods, McCann said. One individual garden may not make a big health impact, but taking the concept to scale with many gardens throughout Danville would.

The Danville Regional Foundation gave the project $10,000 from its “Make It Happen!” program. McCann said plots will be assigned on a first-come, first-serve basis with preference given to those living downtown to instill community. Everything is supplied for the gardener or group, including know-how from the Danville Master Gardeners.

Fill out an application for these plots by mid-February. For more info, call (434) 797-8961 or e-mail thecrossing@visitdanville.com.

Download an application from www.GoDanRiver.com and clicking the link on the story.

• The Rev. Delaware Clark of Camp Grove Baptist Church is planning a 50-foot by 100-foot community garden on Bradley Road. DRF also awarded a $10,000 “Make It Happen!” grant to Camp Grove Educational Opportunity Center.

Clark envisions church members working the garden with members of the neighborhood. He’ll conduct a community survey to gauge interest. He hopes to start planting by March.

“We’re trying to reach out to the community and provide some resources,” Clark said. “This is a way to give back to the community.”

• Cardinal Village also plans a community garden.

• Sacred Heart Church’s youth program developed a garden a couple years ago to donate food to those in need.

Sacred Heart’s 10-foot by 50-foot garden donated 400 pounds of food to God’s Storehouse in 2009, said youth minister Terrie Stone. The youth take turns working it, but finding funding for it has been difficult.

If interested in donating for the Sacred Heart garden, call Stone at (434) 548-3037.

• Caswell County’s Extension Director Joey Knight III and dietician Penny Crumpton are also taking the lead to develop a community garden in Caswell County. If interested, call (336) 694-4158.

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