Increasing Healthy Eating, which includes providing access to nutritious foods and educating folks on ways to cook and eat healthier foods, is a priority for us. Our Garden2Table initiative with The Virginia Cooperative Extension is one of our new programs. The Garden2Table initiative was developed to provide fun, cost effective, and collaborative gardens within our community.
Our first garden opened this past spring at Cambridge Square Apartments and serves senior and disabled individuals at this complex. The garden features wheel-chair accessible beds that were built by students from Old Dominion University. There were additional raised-beds that were built by volunteers from the US Navy and youth doing community service work. Carters Nursery in Chesapeake was a great partner, providing many of the plants and supplies needed. Tomatoes and other fresh produce were grown throughout the summer and harvested for individual and community use. The fall and winter garden was just planted with a variety of seasonal vegetables including green and red cabbage, bok choy, broccoli, onions, and squash.
The garden also features an art gallery with pieces produced by the residents and a colorful rain barrel created by the gardeners. The artists continue to produce work that can be displayed on their outside gallery, within the community commons room, or taken home. Donations of art supplies are always appreciated! Currently, vases donated from Food Lion are being painted by the community artists and will brighten the tables at their community dinners.
We just broke ground on a new pilot program to provide fresh produce to seniors and others through area food pantries. The first of what we hope to be several production gardens is launching located at the Messiah United Methodist Church off Dominion Blvd. This garden will feature winter vegetables that will be maintained and harvested by area youth groups under the direction of an experienced garden supervisor working with our Coalition partners, The Virginia Cooperative Extension. If you are interested in having your group work at this site or donating land to develop additional production gardens, please let us know. We can take one time groups or groups who want to volunteer on a regular schedule.
In other news, we have also piloted a mobile farmers market in South Norfolk. Coalition partner and the American Heart Association took the leadership in contracting with Bev Sells and her team from Norfolk to provide a mobile market at the Cuffee Center on Wednesdays from 4:00pm-6:00pm. During our first pilot season, they operated there through late September, accepting cash, credit, SNAP, and vouchers distributed to area seniors by the 55Plus Coalition and House of Blessings. Funds raised through our 757 Campaign in May enabled us to partner in distributing the $5.00 senior vouchers and $2.00 general vouchers. We were very pleased with the results of this first time venture and are excited to report that 86 vouchers were used by food pantry clients supplementing their staple items with fresh vegetables. This project is under development for continuation in the spring with both this fixed site as well as potential mobile routes.
The Healthy Chef cooking program also launched this summer through a partnership with the YMCA and Cooperative Extension. The first phase of this program introduces youth to healthy eating habits and the second phase includes a multi-week hands-on cooking school. Approximately 50 youth participated in the first phase of this program over an 8-week period this summer. Phase two will start at Cambridge Square Apartments where residents will be taught to use the products they are growing in their garden, as well as provided healthy cooking strategies to people with diabetes. The cooking school will be held in the commons room at no charge for residents and will feature a protein that is then used in 4-5 meal preparations, as many of the seniors are cooking for one or two. Specific food donations and volunteers interested in becoming trained food instructors are currently been sought.
Michelle Charters of the American Heart Association chairs the Healthy Eating Work Team, which meets monthly to develop short and long-term programs and strategies for healthy eating. Membership on this team is open to anyone interested in getting involved. Please check the calendar for the next meeting and join us!