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 a featured program. The Garden2Table initiative was developed to provide fun, cost effective, and collaborative gardens within our community.
Our first garden opened in 2015 at Cambridge Square Apartments. This garden serves senior and disabled individuals at this complex. The garden features wheel-chair accessible beds that were built by students from Old Dominion University. Additional raised-beds, which were built by volunteers from the US Navy and youth doing community service work, were donated as well. The Carters Nursery in Chesapeake provided many of the plants and supplies needed. Tomatoes and other fresh produce are grown throughout the summer and harvested for individual and community use.
The garden at Cambridge Square Apartments 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 is on display in their outside gallery, within the community commons room, or taken home. Donations of art supplies are always appreciated!
We broke ground on a new pilot program to provide fresh produce to seniors and others through area food pantries. Under development currently is a collaborative garden to be located at Chesapeake Correction Center and maintained by the female inmates participating in a workforce development training program. An additional production garden is ready to launch at Greenbrier High School, where the Wildcat Honor Society have developed what we hope will be a prototype for other schools. Food gathered by the students will be supplied to the House of Blessings, the food pantry operated by the Assembly of God Church and supports approximately 400 families monthly.
We have also spent a year conducting a proof of concept with our first aquaponic garden, which utilizes fish waste as a water purifier and as food for the plant. The aquaponic garden is located at the Apostles Lutheran Church, and was developed under the leadership of a church member with the church congregation building the structure. This garden is maintained by clients of Chesapeake Integrated Behavioral Health and Southeast Virginia Training Center.
Chesapeake is also supporting learning gardens for our seniors and youth. Our first school based garden is located at Carver Intermediate, and is supported by Cooperative Extension. We also provide support for the community education garden at the Chesapeake Health Department. If you are interested in having your group work at the gardens 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 basis.
In addition to gardening, we are also focused on teaching healthy cooking techniques. The Healthy Chef cooking program has a partnership with the YMCA and Cooperative Extension. The first phase of this program introduces youth to healthy eating habits. The second phase includes a multi-week hands-on cooking school. With funding from the Hampton Roads Community Foundation, approximately 50 youth participated in the first phase of this program over an 8-week period this past summer.
We also offer ongoing classes for seniors at Cambridge Square Apartments and Southside Baptist Church where residents are learning about how to make healthy foods with the products they are growing in their garden. The classes even involve cooking strategies to people with diabetes. The classes are free and open to the public. If you would like to enroll or become a volunteer trained food instructor, please let us know.
Elizabeth Gmundoma of Virginia Cooperative Extension chairs the Healthy Eating work team, which meets regularly to develop programs and strategies for healthy eating. Mike Andruckz, also of Cooperative Extension chairs the Garden-2-Table work team. Membership on either team is open to anyone interested in getting involved.