By Terri Ferguson Smith / firstname.lastname@example.org
The Meridian Star
Going green is not just about growing fresh vegetables, it's about getting outdoors, working the soil and learning how to eat healthier.
That's according to Craig Wilkes of Go Green Meridian, a 100-volunteer strong group dedicated to educate people about the benefits of locally grown fruits and vegetables that are grown without pesticides or herbicides.
Go Green Meridian is a chapter of Gaining Ground Sustainability Institute of Mississippi, a non-profit based in Starkville. Its first garden, "Love and Peas Community Garden,' is behind Cater's Market on Poplar Springs Drive. Local businesses donated time and products, ranging from tractor services to till the garden, to fencing, compost and soil, Wilkes said.
"Everything at the Love and Peas Garden is donated — all volunteer time. No one is paid anything," Wilkes said. "We try to teach people to grow food sustainably and organically."
It is structured around educating people, he said.
"We try to bring all people in — demographics, race, nationality, it doesn't matter because it's free and open to the public," Wilkes said. "We will teach you how to grow food sustainably. We don't use insecticides, pesticides. We don't use chemicals so that's part of sustainability — maintaining what you have and making it better."
Go Green is also partnering with Junior Auxiliary of Meridian to reach out to children at the East Mississippi Boys and Girls Club. It is also working with the MCC Culinary Arts Technology program, as well as the Meridian Freedom Project, Wilkes said.
Provisional members of JA approached Go Green in February, Wilkes said, asking them to mentor them in building a raised bed at the Boys and Girls Club on 45th Avenue.
"We do know how important it is to teach children to eat better at an earlier age, how to grow food, to know where food comes from," Wilkes said.
Ann Howard Hill is a provisional JA member helping head up the project. She is also program coordinator and chef instructor for MCC's new Culinary Arts Technology program.
She said she and other provisional JA class members chose this project with Boys and Girls Club because they know that many children do not know about where food comes from.
"A lot of time they may live in a place with no access to a garden," Hill said. "We're trying to give them space at the Boys and Girls Club. It teaches them about good quality food and that you can eat healthy on a budget."
The garden will be for children aged 10 and up and on March 22, when they break ground on the raised bed garden, they will have two shifts of children: first from 8 a.m. until 10 a.m.; then from 10 a.m. until 12 p.m. Children will be able to join on a first-come, first-served basis. There will be two, 10 by 4 raised beds.
"They'll be helping us," Hill said. "We'll be teaching them what they need to do to keep the garden up. Then we'll give them a healthy snack based on what they will get from the garden."
Hill said she wanted her culinary arts students to experience going green as well. Go Green Meridian donated a quadrant of its garden on Poplar Springs to culinary students so they can learn about growing herbs and food.
"It shows them the importance of taking care of your food, showing them how much work goes into planting, watering, and weeding," Hill said. "
A year into the the project, Wilkes said the garden is going well. Even with this year's harsh winter, the garden continuously produced lettuce and cabbage. They are looking forward to more success and would like to have more volunteers, who share in the fruits of their labor.
"You can keep the food or donate it. It's totally up to you. If you have a ton of tomatoes and you want to take them to L.O.V.E.'s Kitchen, that's completely up to you," Wilkes said. "You don't have to be here every day. You volunteer as you can. We want to make it convenient for you."