What we found in a food desert

In October, five previous garden managers and interns went to Richwood, West Virginia to conduct an environmental scan. The closing of the city’s only grocery store, Foodland, caused the population of 2,000 to reach out for external help. With the Dollar General and scattered gas stations as the primary sources of food, Richwood is considered a food desert. The USDA broadly defines food deserts as “parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods.” Specifically responding to Cherry River Southern Baptist Church’s request for the implementation of gardens in Richwood, the group sought out viable land. Conversation between the IWU Alliance Gardens, church members in Ohio, and Cherry River Baptist continued throughout the following months.

When Hope and I joined the team, the behind scenes work was already completed. Ten families were on the list to receive box gardens, supplies were bought, and the date was set. After our eight hour drive to West Virginia, we went to the local greenhouse and picked up the transplants and seeds requested by each family. The inventory included tomatoes, potatoes, onions, beans, peas, cucumbers, squash, and cabbage. Following through on the suggestions of the group in October and the people of Richwood, our team went to the homes of the ten families. Each family received a box garden of their desired size (4x4, 4x6, or 4x8), 2 bags of soil, and the vegetables of their choice to plant. Compared to the flatland in Marion, the backyards in Richwood are sloped and steep. As a group, we enjoyed the opportunity we had to go to each family’s home. We were able to more intimately work alongside each family, knowing that each garden was designed to meet the needs of its recipients.

The last two days of our trip included constructing a chicken coop for Rick and Linda. Using the tools in Rick’s shed, Hope and I were taught how to use a circular saw and an electric screwdriver. Having to fight back against the temptation to take a passive role in the construction process, Hope and I found that we became more confident and useful team members when we allowed ourselves to be stretched. We both struggled with and enjoyed the space we were given to implement the new skills we’ve been learning in the Alliance Gardens. From the trip, we both recognized a need to take more ownership of what we are being taught. As Alliance Garden interns, the bulk of our workdays include learning and then enacting what we have just learned. We will become more confident in our skills when we recall so that we can recount.

Our trip to West Virginia introduced us to the communality of agriculture. I specifically have come to love the farming community because of the ways it depends on one another. In our own gardens, we depend on Poppy’s Xtreme Donuts for coffee grounds, IWU Facilities for mulch, Victory Acres for gardening tips, and local businesses for materials such as cinder blocks and lumber. Cherry River Baptist, in the same way, taught me about the ways a community should be able to depend on each other for resources, encouragement, and companionship. The local church in Richwood; a small but passionate group of people, taught me that community development is a lifestyle that stems out of the church. Much more than just a food desert, Richwood is a city determined to change the composition of their soil, one box garden at a time.

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