Youth take the lead on promoting Food Justice in Georgia
The Heritage Presbyterian Church in Acworth, Georgia proudly boasts the motto that: “Love Grows Here”. Well, love isn’t the only thing growing at Heritage Presbyterian. Community is creeping up the trellises and leaders both young and old are being born everyday. I spoke with one such leader; Katie Loud, a young woman who decided to try her hand at growing food and ended up with in a garden of goodness.
After the untimely passing of a young man in the congregation, members of the Heritage Presbyterian Church began planning for what was soon to become the food ministry’s memorial project called “Kevin’s Garden”. Congregation member, Mandy Collins explains:
“We already [had] a very active food pantry ministry in our church. It is great to help folks, but rarely if ever were they getting fresh produce as part of their food assistance. So with all of that in mind, Kevin’s Garden was begun with a lot of prayer and a lot of hard work.”
The idea of establishing a garden to offer fresh produce as part of the food pantry’s direct food aid actually came from two youth-members of the church who had the resourceful idea to use some of the land on the church property just perfect for a garden. Ms. Loud, a high school senior, says that the idea really started with Brittany Gunter an 8th grader in the congregation who was looking for some much needed support in the form of an older member of the youth-congregation. Katie stepped up to the plate.
Ms. Loud used Kevin’s Garden as an opportunity to not only learn about the technical side of gardening, which she previously had no experience with, but also to fulfill a High School Graduation requirement to serve her community and improve her leadership skills. Katie confessed to me her initial reticence with taking on such a substantial leadership role in the garden, “I hadn’t directed people before, but over time I developed a better sense of leadership to help direct people”. Apparently, Kevin’s Garden grows leadership skills too because after just one season Ms. Loud felt confidence in her ability to lead volunteer groups taking root. It is indeed, a tough job to lead crew of volunteers of all ages, but Katie rose to the challenge and helped Kevin’s Garden produce nearly 350 lbs. of food last growing season. The food was used primarily in the Jay Weaver Food Pantry and any leftovers were sold to congregation members. Money raised was put right back into the garden to expand the project and further support the food pantry.
But Katie’s commitment to the mission of Kevin’s Garden does not stop at simply growing food for the Jay Weaver Food Pantry. If we talk about Food Justice as a community exercising its right to grow, sell, and eat food with careful consideration to the root causes of food access inequities, Katie also managed to discover a Food Justice element in this project. As, a youth leader in Heritage Presbyterian’s Vacation Bible School, Ms. Loud used Kevin’s Garden as a conduit for youth learning and growth. Not only did she show groups of four year-olds how to plant their very own marigolds, an excellent natural pest repellent if planted around vegetable plots, Katie took the time to explain to these children where a cucumber comes from and what it means to be in need of food. Katie comments, “We’re not just growing tomatoes for our own benefit…right here in our own backyard there are people coming to get things to eat because they are in need.”
It is the commitment to point out to young children some of these food access challenges that individuals in the community are facing to young children, that makes Kevin’s Garden such a powerful place. Whether it is fertile grounds to cultivate community or a raised-bed from which strong knowledgeable leaders can sprout, Kevin’s Garden highlights both a space and individuals working everyday to make a difference in our food systems.
For more information about Kevin’s Garden, how to get your own Food Justice project off the ground please email our National Food Security Coordinator: firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy Growing!