I recently learned of a wonderful, educational opportunity available right here in Fort Smith, AR. While I only just learned of this venue and its "fruitful" services, it actually opened six years ago. In June 2009, a hands-on horticulture learning center called the “Learning Fields” was unveiled. The Learning Fields at Chaffee Crossing (find them on Facebook) is a project of the River Valley Master Gardeners-- a division of the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, County Extension Services-- that provides classes and instruction on growing plants, fruits, and vegetables suitable for the soil and climate of western Arkansas. This project houses demonstration gardens to share the joy of gardening with anyone who wishes to learn. They actually hold classes on a monthly basis on a variety of gardening subjects, such as Veggies 101, Herbal Adventures, Irrigation for the home garden, and countless others open to the entire River Valley community.
How did I not know about this amazing resource? I wondered what change might we see in the number of Americans who struggle with hunger if more people were made aware of programs like this one? I doubt I’m the only one who is a little intimidated at the thought of growing my own garden. What if parents who struggle to feed their children nutritious foods had the skills necessary to grow their own gardens, rather than going hungry or relying on unhealthy alternatives. The free classes and hands-on demonstrations this program offers could do just that. Having their own garden to cultivate could enable a family to stretch their dollars even further by making nutritious fruits and vegetables readily available and more affordable.
Gardening is not only great for one’s economic well-being but our physical health as well. Mothers and fathers would have more energy to play with their children and get the exercise our bodies need to stay healthy. Gardening in itself may sound like a bit of a chore; however, I think that if the whole family pitched in, it could be an enjoyable, rewarding activity for everyone. I know my kids would love to spend time getting their hands dirty while planting and tending to the fruits and vegetables. Quality time like this has a way of turning what seems like work into play. As mentioned in a previous post, You Reap What You Sow, gardening is a healthy activity that gets people outdoors, offers stress relief, and provides healthy foods and snacks for families. Classes and demonstrations like those held at the Learning Fields could be a fun way to expand our minds, let off some steam, and spend time together as a family.
As it turns out, programs like this one exist in cities and towns across America. When I heard about the Learning Fields, I immediately thought about the tremendous benefits similar programs could offer to those Americans who struggle with food insecurity. For example, The Ecology Center's "Grow Your Own" initiative in Los Angeles, CA supports school gardens and their leaders with mentor programs, curriculum, materials, and resources to help create gardens that are "beautiful, educational, and functional." What an interesting way to empower children and adults to take control of their own resources. With a little physical work, otherwise hungry Americans could reap a multitude of benefits, including becoming more self-reliant. For many Americans, gardening is merely a hobby. For others, it could provide a pathway out of poverty.