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Center for Engagement and Community Development

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Healthy Partnership

K-State Engagement E-News, March 2010 (PDF)

by Mindy Von Elling

Residents of Juniper Gardens in Wyandotte County are taught gardening and healthier eating.

Healthy eating and maintaining a healthy lifestyle has long been a focus for the majority of Americans, including those that may not have the best resources readily available. Principle investigators Spencer Wood, assistant professor of anthropology at Kansas State University; and Nozella Brown, county extension agent for the metropolitan sector, recognized a need for improvement in community health in the Juniper Gardens area of Wyandotte, Kan.

A community gardening project idea was developed in order for the citizens of the community to grow their own food and experience the benefits of a healthier lifestyle.

"We talk about gardening and we talk about low income families taking up gardening and making dietary changes," Brown said. "When they begin to learn the benefits of eating healthier and they begin to taste it from the garden and discover that it's really kind of fun and their children enjoy it, and they can share it with their neighbors, that's exciting for me."

The curriculum for the program consists of going into the impoverished community and teaching seminars on how to grow food at home and cook it in a healthier way for the family.

The program has been somewhat difficult to install, so it is just getting under way, having stumbled over the obstacle of working with an agricultural university to develop an urban area.

"I don't know if the university had all of the resources available that could have been helpful, just because we were looking at gardening in an urban setting," Brown said. "There were barriers there that I don't think the university knew about."

Despite the project's slow start, Wood said the preliminary efforts have paid off.

"I've made a concerted effort to try to hire local folks to pay respondents for their time to keep some portion of the resources as much as possible in the community," Wood said. "So far it seems to be working."

Brown, whose office is in Kansas City and who has had the opportunity to teach seminars, as well as witness results firsthand, said that the effort has not been put to waste.

"Extension has been willing to go into an area that is considered to be depressed," Brown said. "Yet when you go in you realize it's just parents that care about their children and their family and they're not any different than anyone else, so it is gratifying to know that we went past where we were told and just got to know the people."

She said that the residents of Juniper Gardens are already asking when they can start their own first gardens and she feels that extension and K-State have worked well together to provide a sense of empowerment to the people of the community, as well as draw out of them what they did not even know was there. Wood shared her opinion and said it is his personal task to make sure the community has its own part in the project.

"I ask the community what they think needs to be done, how they would go about it, who they think should be talked to," Wood said.

However, the two investigators said there is more to be done on this project to uplift the community of Juniper Gardens and that the work is far from over.

According to Brown, despite the light beginnings of the project, she has already learned as much as she has taught and through the course of this curriculum, there will be more education for all parties involved.

"We all come from different cultures, different experiences, and that's exciting and we can learn from one another that we all have something to contribute," Brown said. " That's what I've learned as much from the families as what I have taught."