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Last updated: Wed. Jun. 04, 2014 - 07:23 am EDT

HEAL pilot gardening program at McCormick Place has 21 participants

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Better eating for some tenants at McCormick Place Apartments, is only a month or so away. The Healthy Eating and Active Lifestyle (HEAL) program urban farm is up and running at, 2300 Slataper St., across from McCormick Place Apartments.

The Growth in Agriculture Through Education farm, has several projects it is currently working with, the biggest is the HEAL program, a pilot program funded by the St. Joseph Community Health Foundation and Parkview Health. The two are working together, along with other community partners, to collaborate on the three-year project. Parkview Health and the St. Joseph foundation jointly funded the $300,000 project.

The idea is to target low-income areas where easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables is extremely limited. McCormick Place is located in a “food desert,” which is defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as an area where one-third of the people are more than a mile from a supermarket where they can make healthy purchases. In the United States, 23.5 million people live more then a mile from a supermarket. According to Dr. Deborah McMahan, Allen County health commissioner, designated food deserts in Allen County include parts of the 46825, 46835, 46805, 46815, 46803, 46774, 46806 and 46819 ZIP codes.

Residents at McCormick Place signed up for the program and the garden is just across the street from the housing complex. Friday afternoon teenagers in the teen farmer program were trickling in after school to take care of their raised beds. For some, growing plants was a new experience, but for many like Tin Aung, 15, and Mike Herra, 14, it is something they had learned from helping their parents in the family garden.

While the boys swapped stories about their days and made plans for the weekend they gently hoed and plucked the weeds from around their young plants.

Over in another area of the garden, women from Redemption House were learning the ins and outs of hands-on gardening. Redemption House is collaborating with the farming program. Its clients have a garden at their house that members of the Urban Farm have helped them develop. In turn their clients come over to the farm on Slataper to learn more about hands-on gardening and get in some sweat equity.

Holly Chaille, garden manager, said HEAL's goal is to improve the health of the residents by increasing the produce the residents are eating. To measure this they surveyed program members to get a feel for what they are currently eating and will then survey them again after the program is over to see if there have been measurable changes. Along the way they will be weighing the amount of produce that comes out of each of the client garden plots.

“That's a pretty good indication of what they are eating,” Chaille said.

Every other week they get together in a group, exchange stories of working in the garden, preparing foods and exchange recipes. Chaille said she wants to encourage people to get to know each other and try new vegetables. The Congolese will be growing cassava, a root similar to a potato, but most people in Indiana have probably never tasted it.

In the adult program they currently have Burmese, Congolese, Hispanic and American families from McCormick Place. The HEAL program has 21 people involved.

“People are growing everything from amaranth (a grain) to zucchini!” Chaille said.

What that breaks down to is radishes, watermelon, okra, beets, collard, greens, tomatoes, garlic, onions, squash and flowers. Currently every garden bed is full.

The teen HEAL program differs from the adult program. The teens are growing fruits and vegetables for a farmers market this summer, and they are learning how to manage a farm. Six teens are participating Fridays and Saturdays.

Because of the very cold winter, Chaille said they lost their bees and would love to have a beekeeper keep a couple of hives at the farm. They have the space and the equipment, just no queen bee.

“If anybody is looking for a place to put in a hive, we would be happy to host it,” Chaille said.

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