“Hey, there’s food in there! That’s corn!”
Oh, the excitement of young students seeing for the first time how food grows in a garden. Members of FamilyFarms Group Charities, the charitable outreach of FamilyFarms Group in Brighton, IL, have been working with the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center in East St. Louis, IL to teach inner-city youth about growing food and nutrition.
In 2013, crops were put in the ground and a variety of fruit trees were planted. Despite a rainy summer, each day the kids faithfully tied plastic shopping bags over their shoes to serve as galoshes, and then weeded the garden and checked on the vegetables.
The garden was expanded in 2014, and this year 10 raised beds were built by a group of volunteers and
students. In the raised beds students are growing a variety of crops including sweet corn, tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers and onions. Teachers and students have learned to distinguish crops from weeds and that those little cherry tomatoes are edible, not poison.
Students and their teachers formed a garden club, and they learn more each day about crops and gardening by helping and observing. The young people plant the seeds, watch the garden grow, keep it weeded, and then pick produce to be prepared by the kitchen staff as part of their hot food program.
Committed to “Agriculture as Vehicle for Change”
It was only natural that FamilyFarms Charities would join forces with Jackie Joyner-Kersee in this effort to reach young people in her hometown.
Jackie Joyner-Kersee, 6-time Olympic medalist in track and field and widely proclaimed as the greatest female athlete ever, has devoted this phase of her life to promoting inner-city farming and nutrition.
Jackie’s “farm” is made up of formerly vacant city blocks now growing corn and other crops through the Family Roots inner-city farming initiative in St. Louis, MO. Her foundation established this youth center to provide kids a safe learning environment where they can go after school and during summer vacation to gain exposure to art, music, sports and, now, gardening. “There are opportunities in agriculture for you even if it’s not farming,” Jackie explained. “Math, science and other skills are needed in agriculture.”
Lending a Helping Hand
One FamilyFarms Group member, Rebecca Crownover of Lone Star Family Farms in Texas, grasps every opportunity to share her story and her passion for agriculture. Having grown up on a farm in Sunray, Texas, Rebecca completed her education and a short career in the bright lights of the city before returning to her roots as a wife, mother and farmer.
At the invitation of the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center, Rebecca shared her story with the students and donated a copy of her book Texas Farm Girl to each child present. Jackie was on hand to encourage the kids to be involved with agriculture, even if they are not farmers on the same scale that Rebecca and her family operate in Texas.
Rebecca has set aside a portion of the profit from sales of her books for FamilyFarms Group Charities to use in its many projects, which include: a greenhouse and garden at an AIDS orphanage in South Africa much like this garden at the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center; volunteering at food banks and homeless shelters; supporting FFA and 4-H; disaster relief; providing scholarships for college ag students and much more.
With its emphasis on education and training, this group is proving that agriculture is an appropriate vehicle for providing a helping hand to individuals, families and communities in need, supplying a means for gaining self-sufficiency through farming and related business skills.