CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Amid all of the swirling activity involving community gardens in our area, there's a push to involve families in gardens that teach both parents and children about good nutrition and the benefits of growing produce.
KEYS 4 HealthyKids is leading the charge. The organization is part of a national nonprofit program, based in North Carolina and working in dozens of cities across the United States.
"The West Side, East End and Kanawha City are the epicenter of KEYS 4 HealthyKids (K4HK), an initiative that is ready to confront both fat-laden diets and sedentary living among residents," according to the website www.healthykidshealthycommunities.org/communities/charleston-wv.
The poverty of the area -- in one elementary school, 85 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch -- makes the initiative important. The group points out that all three communities have strong neighborhood associations and recent urban renewal efforts involving improving housing and community amenities. Led by the CAMC Health Education and Research Institute Inc., K4HK aims to capitalize on these positives to start changing the negatives.
K4HK wants to make it easier for the population to eat nutritious foods. The Capitol Market in the East End offers residents fresh, local produce and the goal will be to expand such access through more farmers markets and revitalized community gardens on the West Side and in Kanawha City.
The initiative, with funding through Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities, is supported by the Kanawha Coalition for Community Health Improvement and such partners as health-care providers, nonprofit organizations and local and regional agencies. The West Virginia Council of Churches will play a major role in engaging the neighborhoods since it has connections to congregations that already serve as local hubs -- running food pantries, soup kitchens and recreational programs.
Kate Alie, the KEYS Eating Healthy team leader, has been busy lining up garden space, and gardeners, to plant produce at the East End Family Resource Center and at Piedmont Elementary. The Family Resource Center plants are in containers while the Piedmont site will be more extensive.
"We had a work party at the East End Family Resource Center May 19," Alie said. "And KEY members in attendance were Angela Rexroad [community garden coordinator], Ashley Dunkle, Judy Crabtree and me. In addition, we had at least 10 adult volunteers and 21 children help. Green's Feed and Seed dropped off four scoops of mulch and 10 bags of moisture control potting soil. Charleston Parks and Recreation let us use two wheelbarrows on the property to transfer the mulch from the bed of the truck to the container gardening area bordered with landscape timbers.
"People from the neighborhood came to lend a helping hand, and positive comments were made by passers-by. Each child received a pair of garden gloves, a gardening scoop, and a 16-inch pot filled with potting soil. The children were given permanent markers so that they could write their names on the pots."
The cherry tomatoes and fresh basil that fill the pots all came from the West Side Farmers Market.
Crabtree, coordinator of the KEYS grant, said the container garden hits on all of the organization's "keys," while focusing on the main initiative: fighting childhood obesity.