Look around in the small towns of North Georgia and you’ll find that home food production is as popular as ever. Neatly maintained gardens in Lula, Alto and beyond are producing zucchini, squash, cucumbers, corn, and other local produce.
In Gainesville, urbanization continues at a rapid pace, though. The only food source that some urban kids have ever known is the supermarket. On Pearl Nix Drive, the Gainesville Housing Authority is making educational efforts to change that.
Earlier this year, interim executive director Beth Brown worked with Brenau University and the District 2 Public Health Department to start an “edible garden” project. Designed for middle-school kids ages 8 through 13, the group was looking for a suitable teacher to instruct and supervise the school children, and show them that food grows in soil, not on grocery store shelves.
It emerged quickly that the perfect choice was Renee Noto, a recent Brenau graduate in middle school education currently earning a master’s degree in teaching.
“It’s important to keep the kids busy and learning at all times,” Noto said. “We alternate instruction, right here in the classroom at the GHA, with activities in the plant beds outside. There’s a very nice plot set aside for gardening, with the right amount of sunlight, and the students are having a great time learning to be food producers.”
The project suffered a setback early on when the little greenhouse, purchased exclusively for the Melrose Garden Club, was destroyed by vandalism. But Noto is unfazed.
“A lot of the kids don’t get healthy eating instruction at home, and junk food is available more easily than fresh fruit and vegetables,” she said. “So the instruction they are getting is every bit as important as the practical experience outdoors.”
Funded by a grant from the Health Department, the project should be growing tomatoes, zucchini and eggplants very soon.
“There are more benefits to this garden club than one might think,” said Anderson Flen, Health Promotions Coordinator for District 2. “The learning experience includes nutrition, good health, wholesome foods, the basics of horticulture and agriculture, but also a sense of community and group responsibility.”
Given the fact that Georgia ranks among the top 20 states with obesity-related health problems, the garden developing at Pearl Nix Drive will be a nice contribution toward healthier lifestyles. More about the Melrose Garden Club can be found at www.gainesvillehousing.org.
Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor of physical science and director of sustainability at Brenau University. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.