NEWBERRY — A local garden is coming to the Newberry YMCA thanks to a partnership among 4-H, the Newberry County YMCA and Walmart, who awarded the YMCA with a community development grant.
The one-time grant provides seed money to establish a community garden which organizers hope becomes a self-sustaining way for families in Newberry County to have greater access to free fruits and vegetables.
The $30,000 grant will fund programming in Newberry, Laurens and Chesterfield counties, including the Darlington area. The funds will be divided equally among the three counties.
The garden is a strategic effort to combat a problem of 18.8 percent of South Carolinians-food insecurity, or not knowing where one gets their next meal.
Healthy communities and healthy lifestyles are priorities as the YMCA engages community issues, according to Amy Splittgerber, executive director of the South Carolina YMCA’s State Alliance.
“There is a definite relationship between obesity and food insecurities because cheap food is often unhealthy food,” she said. “These three counties share the challenge of food insecurity so that is why these three counties were targeted.”
She spoke of the YMCA national trend growing in popularity as a source of education and getting healthy food onto the tables of families that need it.
“The YMCA is trying to get more engaged in local efforts to promote healthy eating and activity and to be a community catalyst in those areas to increase the access to healthy fruits and vegetables with the realization that for many families it is difficult to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables,” Splittgerber said.
With those goals in mind, Newberry YMCA Executive Director Eric Nelson reported how snack time has changed at the Newberry YMCA.
Now the food served must fit within healthy living standards for fruits, vegetables, caloric intake and lower fats. Water is served instead of juice during the after school and summer camp programs. The YMCA has family style snack times to provide more structure for youth.
Nelson said he envisions parent involvement with the community garden program as well.
Once harvested the vegetables would be used for cooking with 4-H programs including recipes and meal preparation. Parents will be included in the cooking component, possibly as tasters.
“We will rely upon the support of Alana West and 4-H as a partner for technical support and we are looking for YMCA members with a gardening background and experience to help as well,” Nelson said.
Children will help build and establish raised beds and be involved in planting, tending and harvesting produce.
West said 4-H will provide support to the garden program drawing upon its knowledge base through Clemson Extension.
“This program can utilize our participation from an agriculture and nutrition aspect,” West said. “We’ll teach about maintaining a garden, keeping it free of weeds and pests.”
She also will teach harvesting.
West currently meets monthly for a nutrition program with YMCA kids and said some of that curriculum will be helpful.
She tentatively has planned a build day for boxes and raised gardens, a plant day for planting seeds and a watering day, if not several, to teach the youth how to water a garden.
The YMCA participants do not have to be 4-Hers but it is hoped some of them may choose to become 4-Hers eventually in programs like 4-H’s competitive program that combines culinary skills with kitchen safety and the concept of my plate (portion control) per national guidelines.
The grant connects to the YMCA mission as a way to provide for people in need.
“This is not about the YMCA but it’s about the Newberry community and issues related to community health especially as it relates to children,” Nelson said.
The garden would provide vegetables to families, particularly families in need. He said the YMCA would look within its membership for areas of need first and then reach out into the community beyond its members as resources allowed.
He said the YMCA continues to seek funding and support to make the program accessible to more children and intend to provide need based scholarships for children who are community members but not YMCA members and would still like to attend summer camp and fall programming.
This fund raising is for money to make sure a child who wants to have access to the YMCA programming can have access, he said.
The garden will be on YMCA property and the grand covers construction costs, etc. but not staffing costs. YMCA staff, members and volunteers are being asked to participate.
One goal is either participating in the Newberry Farmer’s Market or setting up a local Farmer’s Market for sustainability.
“People can grow food less expensively than they can buy it now,” he said. “And self sufficiency and being dependent on your own resources is a critical thing for young people to know.”
For more information on the community garden project contact the Newberry YMCA at 803-276-9936 or Newberry County 4-H at 803-276-1091 ext. 111.