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Saturday August 19th 2017

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“Talking in the Backyard” Gardening Grows More than Food

by Ariele Strachan, Cultural Wellness Center

The Backyard Initiative (BYI) now has 13 Citizen Health Action Teams (CHATs) implementing health strategies developed by members who are local residents. The Growing the Backyard CHAT was given support by the BYI Community Commission on Health for their Family Garden Project in April of this year and have been working with families on gardening since late May. The Family Garden Project has connected with eight families in the Phillips, Powderhorn, Central, and Corcoran neighborhoods (the Backyard area) and has helped each of them to install a 4×4 foot raised bed garden. The Family Garden Project works with whole families — parents, children of all ages, grandparents and other members of the family — to make gardening a natural part of everyone’s day where different gardening activities are less chores and are more activities to bring the family and the community closer together.

I spoke with Hashep Seka, one of the Food Systems Navigators who helps support and answer gardening questions for all the families. She said that one of the easiest and greatest connection-building activities of the Family Garden Project’s work is just getting people outside. In just being outside people get to see their neighbors more, get to have more of a presence on their block and open the door to neighbors coming over, asking questions about the garden and getting to know each other. Already from the natural visibility of the project, interest has grown to where there are eight more people on the waiting list to join the Family Garden Project in next year’s growing season.

Hashep also told me about the importance the Growing the Backyard CHAT placed on working with families who have children in the home to make the Family Garden Project an activity that brought together the generations. She told me about how there are so many projects that work with the children but there are not many which truly engage their parents as well. The Family Garden Project creates a space for the whole family, parents and children, to work together, learn together, build together, and just be together in working on their garden.

The work of the Family Garden Project came from an observation of the disconnect of people of the Backyard from healthy foods. The Growing the Backyard CHAT aims to build residents’ access to healthy foods in a sustainable way and begins with growing this in residents’ own backyards. In working with the Family Garden Project residents have had support from the Food Systems Navigators in walking through all the steps of gardening from planning the seeds and seedlings, to identifying plants as their leaves start to show, to advice on how to have plants grow healthy and strong and how and when to harvest plants.

As we move into the fall, the Food Systems Navigators will be holding classes on food preservation for continued use of this self-created resource through the winter. There is also a trip to an orchard being planned which will allow the families to see other forms of growing, an opportunity that we do not often have in the city. Hashep told me, “I think the coolest thing is that everyone had a chance to add to the garden growing, from the parents to the youngest kids who got to help with the watering. It’s great that people who have never had gardens now do and are maintaining them well.”

In the next year the Family Garden Project is looking to having Garden Partners, a system where people in the same area will act as support for each other in their gardening. Hashep says “I feel the easiest way to garden is when you’re with someone. This helps you have the drive, the motivation, the reason to garden and carry through. When they show up and are there for you, that gives you the extra reason and holds you accountable to get outside and just do it.”

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