Unemployed workers learn to grow their own food
In Ohio, a private college teaches 20 families with unemployed workers how to put food on the table by growing vegetables
Many of the new gardeners didn't know how to grow vegetables, and weren't sure what to do with them once they did.Skip to next paragraph
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They learned, though, as part of a project by a local college to help a community hard-hit by the recession grow some of its own food.
Wilmington College provided the 20 plots and the guidance in this southwestern Ohio town after DHL Express decided last year to close its operation here, putting most of 8,000 Wilmington Air Park employees out of work. Local unemployment has soared to 15 percent.
Food pantries and other charities reported unprecedented demand, so the school, besides using its agricultural program to raise and donate crops, decided it could have a lasting impact by teaching people to garden.
"It's not about a handout, it's a hand up," says Chris Burns-Dibiasio, whose husband, Daniel, is president of the private college of some 1,700 students. "It's teaching them how to supplement their groceries; it's about building a local food system."
The "Grow Food, Grow Hope" program began in late spring in a grassy lot next to a college parking lot. The 20 initial families were identified with the help of social services agencies.
Students and staff set up 4-by-12-foot plots, and provided manure and compost. An anonymous donor helped cover costs, from hoes for each family to a solar-powered electric fence to keep out critters.
Now, nine volunteers from VISTA, the national service program, are also helping out, trying to expand the program to more families and more seasons, and teach schoolchildren how to garden.
"We were surprised; we didn't know that this little area could produce so much," says Mandy Gillis as her 4-year-old son, Logan, plucked ripe tomatoes off the vines the family planted and grew themselves.
She and her husband, Josh, have enjoyed watching their four children eat broccoli straight from the garden, and have become experts on all things zucchini: zucchini bread, zucchini muffins, zucchini cakes, zucchini spaghetti sauce, hamburgers mixed with zucchini.
Every Tuesday evening, the families came to plant, weed and finally harvest, with the help of Wilmington teachers and volunteer "master gardeners" from the community.
"I would tell them, 'If it doesn't look like what you planted, it's a weed, pull it up!'" recounts Monte Anderson, an agriculture professor who helped direct the project.
Community gardens are on a roll across the country, from the one Michelle Obama began on the White House lawn to "urban gardens" in cities from New York to San Francisco. They are popular for aesthetic, environmental, nutritional and economic reasons.