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July 16, 2024

Tackling Food Insecurity

Public garden a great asset to community

By Jack Criss

The Bolivar Bullet

The Delta Health Center in Mound Bayou, in conjunction with Alcorn State University, is utilizing its six acre garden on campus to help the community obtain nutritious vegetables and fruits–and all at no cost. With so many people now dealing with food insecurity and high costs, the community garden is truly a wonderful asset.

“We have a much larger garden this year,” said Robin Boyles, Chief Program Planning and Development Officer for the DHC. “John Coleman with Alcorn State, helps us with the planting and technical assistance and upkeep of the garden–we have a partnership with them. Right now, we’re growing cucumbers, squash, zucchini, several different types of peppers, herbs like rosemary, mint and basil–for salt substitution–peas will be coming in soon, corn, tomatoes–more is coming in this year than ever before.” 

And, anyone is free to come and take what they need, even if they are not patients of the Delta Health Center, added Boyles. 

“We do harvest what we have and give to our patients, but all are welcome to come out early in the morning and get what they need. The only rule is: pick what you need, leave what you don’t.”

A demonstration kitchen is also offered at the Center thanks to some grant money they received last year. 

“So, from time to time our staff nutritionist, Bretlyn Phillips, gives classes on how to prepare the vegetables in a healthy way,” said Boyles. “We also have a pediatric expert on hand to show parents how to prepare vegetables and fruits so that kids will enjoy and like them more. Kirsten Westerfield, our registered dietician here at the Center, also helps us out in providing healthy information to our patients.”

Boyles said the program is making a profound difference and that patients and others are taking advantage of the garden food. 

“We’ve had the garden for years,” she noted. “But, it’s now so much more plentiful because of our association with Alcorn State and their help. We also recently received a Food Insecurity Grant that allowed  usto put more funding into the project for buying more seeds–we got that through the Community Health Center Association of Mississippi and through some additional funding from Direct Relief.” Boyles said she is working on obtaining more grants that would allow for vegetable and fruit growing in the off-season. “We really are looking to expand the program and our offerings,” she said, noting that fruit trees are also on campus and that people are also welcome to pick from them, as well.” 

The Center also has a seperate Bolivar Emergency Food and Shelter grant that allows them to provide food vouchers for those in need. 

“We have a partnership with Vowell’s grocery store in Cleveland and they will honor those vouchers and then invoice the Center for payment, which the grant provided,” said Boyles. “Our patients need fresh vegetables and not processed ones, and this philosophy goes all the way back to our founder, the late Dr. Jack Geiger. He used to write ‘food prescriptions’ to patients here at the Center which they would then take to the grocery store at Mound Bayou at the time and get what they needed. Well, when the federal government came down here to question this, he made the statement, ‘Every medical journal that I read says that the remedy for hunger is food.’ So what we’re doing now goes all the way back to our very founding.”