News Column

El Paso Community Garden Yields More Than Crops

March 11, 2013

Victor R. Martinez, El Paso Times, Texas

Just to the right of the Multipurpose Center on busy Viscount Boulevard are 27 plots of fertile, lush farmland.

Right next to where youth football teams practice on the weekdays and soccer teams play on the weekends is a tiny fenced-in community garden.

"There are so many health benefits to a community garden," said Celeste Care, a registered dietitian and senior nutritionist for El Paso's WIC program. "People are quickly forgetting where our food comes from and what it's like to plant it from a seed, then growing it and taking it home and making food with it."

The El Paso Department of Public Health, the El Paso Parks and Recreation Department and the city's Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program are teaming up to promote healthful eating.

The educational campaign is sponsored annually by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

"A lot of kids think carrots come in tiny shapes in a bag," Care said. "They are forgetting it's a whole process."

To raise awareness of the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits, the city organizations are launching the "Eat Right, Your Way, Every Day" initiative to help people plan nutritious meals based on vegetables.

A gardening workshop is planned from 10 a.m to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Vista Del Valle Community Garden, 9031 Viscount.

"It's a great chance for families to bond and find something different to do with their day

and also to get kids to be more aware of our food system and where it comes from," Care said. "We'll have workshops that will teach the basics of gardening, a demonstration on composting and the culinary students at El Paso Community College will have a cooking demonstration using the food grown in the community garden."

The educational community garden grows many fruits and vegetables, including spinach, winter lettuce, parsley, strawberries, onion, garlic, tomatoes, squash, okra, watermelon, cucumbers and peppers.

Community groups or individual families are responsible for planting, growing and overall care of their own plots.

El Paso Community College has embraced its plot and is using it as a hands-on experience for older students.

"We are using our plot as a learning tool," said David Davis, who teaches container gardening to his continuing education students at EPCC. "Our seniors actually plant the seed and they get a chance to see what happens when it comes up."

Davis, a Master Gardener and an active member of the community gardening group, said its important for WIC participants to understand where their food comes from.

"Another reason why it's so important, especially for WIC, is because it'll cut down on the food budget a little bit," he said. "When people don't have very much space and they do container gardening, the produce that they grow for themselves means one less thing they have to buy at the grocery store. On top of that, it's organically grown, so it's a win-win deal all around."

Davis said people should not be afraid to get their hands dirty -- even those who do not have green thumbs.

"Anybody can do it," he said. "Nature already provided the survival mechanisms for the plants; all you have to do is take care of them. You are just the shepherd."

And that is the reason for Saturday's workshop.

"A lot of people feel there is a barrier and they don't know where to start or they don't know what to do, so we are connecting them with people who have a lot of experience who can provide advice," Care said. "You can start with something really small at home or maybe if you live close to the community garden, you can become a member of a community garden."

Marcia Tuck, open space trails and parks coordinator for the El Paso Parks and Recreation Department, said there are three other community gardens in the works.

"We've put in for CDBG (community development block grant) funds for two more, one in the Chamizal area and one in the Lower Dyer area," Tuck said. "We are actively seeking funds to put one in at Carolina Park."

Tuck said the city hopes to have the Carolina Park community garden up and growing by the summer.

"A friend of a friend who gardens here told me about an 8-year-old who never had a radish in her life," Tuck said. "But when she put the seed in the soil, helped water it and made it grow, when she finally pulled it up and went home and ate those radishes, it somehow tasted better."

Victor R. Martinez may be reached at vmartinez@elpasotimes.com; 546-6128. Follow him on Twitter @vrmart.

Make plans

-- What: Gardening Workshop.
-- When: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday.
-- Where: Vista Del Valle Community Garden, 9031 Viscount.
-- How much: Free.
-- Information: 731-5778 or home.elpasotexas.gov/parks/community-garden.php

Seek help

-- Feeling a little uneasy about planting and growing your own fruit and vegetable garden? Call the Master Gardeners hotline at 566-1276 or visit elp.tamu.edu/.



Source: (c)2013 the El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas) Distributed by MCT Information Services


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