Going home with fresh vegetables from the Healthy Harvest Community Garden was a bonus for those attending an open house at the garden Saturday morning at Edmunds Park.
The garden’s interns led the children on a scavenger hunt through the wildlife trail and found some vegetables freshly picked from the garden to take home with them.
“We’re trying to encourage them to make healthy choices,” said Healthy Harvest Community Garden chairperson Maria Traynham, as the children headed back from their scavenger hunt with their bags of vegetables in hand.
A raffle with a chance to win a variety of prizes and a chance to pet Shannon Simpson’s horse Strauss, formally known as Conversano II Destina, added to the fun at the open house.
Improving the overall health of the community by providing those in need with access to fresh produce is the overall goal of the Healthy Harvest Community Garden.
Now in its fourth year, the garden has yielded about 4,000 pounds of produce, the most bountiful year so far, Traynham shared with the group gathered for the open house. So far, she said more than 3,500 pounds of vegetables had been distributed to community members.
The community garden distributes food to community members in need of fresh produce through food pantries, churches and even visiting apartment complexes.
At the open house, Traynham and garden manager/intern coordinator Sheri Love recognized the efforts of all community members who make the community garden a success: the Southside Master Gardeners, Pleasant Grove Baptist Church under the leadership of Rev. Ronald Claiborne, and the eight high school interns who tended the garden this summer: Kaitylnn Love, Jaxton Hart, Bracen Hart, Wyatt Francis, J.T. Francis, Allyson Toler, Dylan Love and Sydney Toler.
“We want to say how thankful we are for the interns and for all their hard work and dedication,” Love said. “These kids get up, and they’re out here at 6:30 in the mornings. They’re out here in the evenings. They’re out here in the rain.”
South Boston town councilman Joe Chandler also thanked everyone involved in the success of the community garden.
“On behalf of town council, we extend a special thanks to everyone who has played a role in making the Healthy Harvest Community Garden the overwhelming success that it is. To be able to produce 4,000 pounds of produce, that is quite a task and quite an accomplishment for a project that is so young,” Chandler said. “Thanks to the efforts of everyone who has worked so very hard on this project, the people in our community in need of wholesome, healthy vegetables now have an opportunity to have access to them. I’m a lifelong resident of this community, and one of the things that makes this community special in my heart is how caring people, like the volunteers and everyone associated with this project, devote their time and their talent to make something positive for their fellow men.”
Halifax town manager Carl Espy remarked that the project shows how improving community health in “rural communities that are really struggling” can be accomplished and how the old and the young alike who have toiled in the garden worked together to accomplish that goal.
“I think the young and the old can show what can be done to be great stewards and caregivers of this beautiful world that we are fortunate to live in day to day,” Espy commented. “I wanted to point that out and also how connected everything is. When we see the work that’s done here in this wonderful garden and facility, and learn how the riches are then passed on to those in need in our community in various food pantries, that’s incredible to see how much giving is being done in this community. It’s incredible to see this amount of generosity.”
Bill McCaleb, coordinator of the Southside Master Gardeners, noted the community garden addresses Halifax County’s “food desert,” filling the need for fresh vegetables for community members on a fixed income who otherwise would not have access to those healthy food options.
“This is a community effort by a lot of folks in our community, which makes a much better Halifax County,” McCaleb added.
The Healthy Harvest Community Garden was the brainchild of a former employee of Sentara Halifax Regional Hospital. Debbie Knight of Sentara Halifax Regional Hospital shared the story Saturday of how the community garden first got its start, and the importance of eating fresh produce.
She told the crowd that research over the past 10 years shows that lifestyle choices such as eating nutritious foods play a major role in determining a person’s health status, and for that reason, the hospital decided having a community garden would be a way to improve the health status of community members.
“When Faith O’Neil, our director of marketing at the time, asked our CFO if we thought a community garden would be a good idea, we started to explore it. We thought it would be a great idea,” Knight shared. “We researched it for a summer and went to the Botanical Gardens to see if we could partner with them, and the rest is history.”
The Healthy Harvest Community Garden project was supported by the Virginia State Office of Rural Health of the Virginia Department of Health, as well as major contributions from Sentara Halifax Regional Hospital and other local donors.