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Charlotte-area vegetable gardens seek to increase access to healthy food

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More than 20 people met at Hidden Valley Elementary School on Saturday morning to build and plant vegetable gardens as part of Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx’s “Healthy Children, Healthy Families” DNC Legacy Program.

Together with Friendship Gardens Program Director Henry Owen, Hidden Valley staff members, parent and student volunteers worked to construct, fill and plant spinach, lettuce, Brussels sprouts, kale, carrots, radishes and potatoes in the four raised beds. According to city officials, the program – which is a continuation of a concept launched during the Democratic National Convention last year – seeks to increase Charlotte residents’ access to healthy foods and promote healthy lifestyle choices.

Foxx met with volunteers and said that in addition to the garden’s health benefits, it’s good to reconnect young people with the concept that food has to be grown. “My kids forget that food comes from someplace,” Foxx said. “Food has to be planted, grown and picked.”

Novant Health Foundations President Paula Vincent said Hidden Valley is one of 10 community gardens that will be sponsored by Novant Health. “We thought it was a great opportunity to give back to the community,” she said, noting the gardens will also help address the growing concern of obesity, particularly in children. “It’s a chance to educate children and their families about healthy eating.”

A portion of the food grown at each garden will go to Friendship Trays’ Meals on Wheels, Owen said. Hidden Valley is only the second garden to be planted over the two-year tenure of the grant.

Owen said the only criteria to be considered for a community garden, like Hidden Valley’s, is need. “We’re looking for a community that has the people, the passion, everything but the dollars to get it going.”

Hidden Valley physical education teacher Marissa Chavis said she is an alumna of Hidden Valley and was researching school gardens last summer when she came across Friendship Gardens’ information and signed up. “This was just an empty space,” she said of the fenced area where the garden was planted.

“I came up with a garden club and we have eight to 10 members from second to fifth grade. They’re going to be awesome planters,” Chavis said of the students.

During the summer, Chavis said, she’ll be working with A Child’s Place summer camps and will have the campers help tend the gardens while students are on break.

Chavis said she plans to work with a social worker to distribute a portion of the food from the garden to area families in need.

Third-grader Mariama Jawara shoveled dirt into wheelbarrows and as a member of the garden club, said she’s excited to grow squash and flowers. Though Mariama said she isn’t a huge fan of vegetables, she did say she’d try those she helps grow.

Hidden Valley media specialist Liliet Council said students and staff are thrilled to have the garden. “It’s a wonderful way of connecting health, literacy, farming, gardening,” she said. “I love that we’re reconnecting the kids with the land. … We can’t wait to see what grows.”

Trenda: 704-358-5089; On Twitter: @htrenda
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