Among the services that Atlanta Metro Food & Network (AM-FFN) offers is technical assistance and support to community gardens. For close to a year now, we have worked with the Pittsburgh Community Improvement Association (PCIA) to help enhance the operations of its two garden sites in this southwest Atlanta historic neighborhood. With grant funding provided by Park Pride, we have focused on stabilizing Welch Street Park Community Garden in the areas of soil improvement, rainwater catchment for irrigation, and Garden Club development. Expertise in water management and rain barrel installation has also been provided by Darryl Haddock of Westside Atlanta Watershed Alliance (WAWA).
Pierre Gaither is the Operations Manager for PCIA and he recently referred AM-FFN to another organization in the neighborhood for inclusion in our collaboration. Foreverfamily Inc was the nation’s first organization, and is still the only nonprofit in Georgia, solely dedicated to helping children who—by no fault of their own—have had to struggle with a unique set of challenges. Too often, these include a sense of shame, anxiety and fear, and social stigma, tied to their parent’s imprisonment—all of which can become evident in deep emotional withdrawal or behavioral outbursts. Since its inception in 1987, Foreverfamily (originally known as AIM) has helped more than 10,000 children, each of whom had their own unique challenges to face. Because of the compassionate care and consistent support provided by Foreverfamily staff and volunteers, the lives of these children have been enriched, if not altogether turned around for the better (Source: www.foreverfam.org/info/).
For the past several months, AM-FFN staff and volunteers have been working with young people from Foreverfamily by connecting them to WSP Community Garden for horticultural literacy education as well as therapeutic gardening. Gardening is a new experience for many of the urban dwelling youth and several have steadfastly resisted getting involved with the outdoor activity, citing aversion to insects and getting dirty. However, others got involved immediately and have been enthusiastic about learning new skills and being active in a stimulating environment. It is likely that over time, more of the program participants will be persuaded to give urban gardening a chance and join their peers in growing fresh, organic vegetables.
One very interesting fact about the Foreverfamilies program is that the meals served to the youth are vegetarian cuisine, often prepared with help from the children. This characteristic provides several opportunities for synergy with the garden partnership, including periodically using produce from the garden as ingredients for their recipes. For the young people that find the all vegetarian diet challenging to accommodate themselves to, being able to choose their favorite crops to plant in the garden might offer some another path to buy-in. In addition, scraps left over from preparing vegetarian dishes can be used to teach lessons on composting and sustainable gardening.
AM-FFN staff members and volunteers who are involved with this partnership include Stephanie Radbill (Operations Coordinator), Abiodun Henderson (Operations Team Member), and Kwabena Nkromo (Program Director). Foreverfamilies staff members Beth Wettlin and Odette Duncan most often join in at the garden with the youth, but other personnel get involved as well. With PCIA as the connector, all three organizations are finding collaborative gold in relationship to their respective core missions. Community gardens have always been great places to bring neighbors together. It seems they are also good at connecting programs as well.