In the above clip, watch HGIO’s Grace Peterson teach 3-year-old Evelyn Watts — who stopped by Shreveport’s newest Garden Learning Center with her mom and dad — make her very fist carrot salad, which she proudly embellished with chunks of pineapple!
February 27, 2013
By Tina Dirmann
BCBSLA Foundation Staff Writer
Donna Curtis knows all too well what happens to a community when the main grocery store is nothing more than a small corner market. She knows because, as executive director for Shreveport Green, she sees the fall-out from these food-desert communities every day. In time, fresh fruits and vegetables can become so foreign, folks in these neighborhoods quite literally don’t know what to do with a head of fresh broccoli or a raw potato — even when they’re handed out for free.“We sent some kids home with potatoes from our garden,” Curtis said. “And the next day, one boy handed his potato right back to me. ‘My mom doesn’t know how to prepare it,’ he said… That’s what we’re dealing with. They can open a package of Ramen Noodles. But cook a vegetable? They have no idea.”
It’s exactly the kind of nutritional education gap Shreveport’s new $1.4 million wellness initiative, Healthy, Green & into the Outdoors, was created to overcome. HGIO marked it’s official kick-off on Feb. 23 at Shreveport’s Highland Center, unveiling a host of community wellness programs, including a mobile health screening unit and a Garden Learning Center.
The garden, which will be a site for growing vegetables, cooking classes, health screenings and nutrition education, is the first of eight that will serve the Mooretown and Cedar Grove neighborhoods, near down-town Shreveport, over the next three years. The goal is to reduce some of the startling health statistics plaguing area residents, where an estimated 1 in 4 is considered obese. Alarmed by such facts, 18 government and non-profit agencies within the Shreveport region joined together to form HGIO. The effort was bolstered by a $600,000 award from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation grant program (Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana). Foundation Executive Director Christy Reeves was on-hand for the kick-off event, stressing how proud the Foundation is to be a part of such an amazing community collaborative.
“We really believe in investing back into the community,” Reeves said. “And we’re especially excited
to be a part of this new journey to help bring change… This is definitely a collaborative effort and we’re very glad to see Shreveport partner with us in this movement.”
Some early participants report already being exposed to foods they never, in their wildest dreams, expected to be eating — let alone enjoying! Teenage volunteer
Adriana Poland helped friend Joshua Blanks cook-up a huge, steaming pot of lentil soup, served to anyone daring enough to try the vegetable-packed concoction, made largely from items they helped grow themselves. As the soup’s hearty aroma filled the air, a steady line of curious tasters surrounded the pot. Poland, a self-described non-vegetable eater, took a spoonful and nodded in approval.
“This is the fist time I’ve worked with lentils,” she said. “It’s not at all something I’d normally cook or eat, no way. But it’s delicious!”
Area resident Mike Watts brought his wife, Emily, and daughter, 3-year-old Evelyn, to the garden after learning about the kick-off several days before. He said he was eager to find a place to raise his own vegetables, since his rental home doesn’t provide gardening space.
“It’s awesome to have something like this in our neighborhood,” Watts said. “I can really see coming here and planting things, and it’s a great way to get involved in the community. I’d love to see even more gardens in the empty fields around town. It’s a great idea.”
It’s that kind of enthusiasm that has helped make the new community gardens and other wellness initiatives a reality for Shreveport, said Paula Hickman, executive director for the Community Foundation of North Louisiana and lead applicant for the BCBSLAF Challenge Grant.
“The community itself wanted this,” Hickman said. “We couldn’t just plop down gardens and expect it to succeed if there wasn’t an interest from the surrounding community. But there is a big interest, and that’s what makes this special. We see all aspects of the community coming together, all centered around our Garden Learning Centers.”