WEEKLY FARM: USDA Programs Aimed at Rural Areas, Inner City Youth
WASHINGTON (AP) _ From urban gardens in the Los Angeles inner city to livestock pens in a remote Alaskan village, needy people from a variety of American cultures are helping themselves through Agriculture Department extension programs.
A three-way partnership of the USDA Extension Service, state universities and counties, the informal educational network focuses on helping people make practical decisions in such areas as food safety and nutrition, revitalizing rural America and helping youth at risk.
In Los Angeles and other large cities, Common Ground garden projects teach participants to produce and use vegetables to eat more nutritiously.
More than 20,000 people have participated in the gardens, workshops and school projects in Los Angeles since Common Ground began in 1977, officials said recently.
″During this time, fresh vegetables with a retail value of almost $4 million were made available to families who otherwise could not afford them,″ said George Rendell, regional director of Los Angeles County Extension.
″About 70 percent of Common Ground’s participants are low-income residents of our county,″ said Brenda Funches, Los Angeles County Extension specialist.
During the recent Los Angeles rioting, Common Ground urban gardens were untouched though violence and destruction flared around them, according to extension officials.
″People take pride in their ownership of these projects and protect them as anyone protects what is theirs,″ said Rick Gomez, national program leader for the Urban Gardening Program.
There are 23 urban gardening programs in such cities as New York, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Detroit and Atlanta. The Los Angeles program operates 17 community and 30 school gardening projects, benefiting 450 families, including nearly 2,500 children, extension officials say.
In New York, the program targeted the increasing numbers of Spanish- speaking people moving into the city who do not read or write English well.
Collaborating with other government agencies, private organizations and the Harlem community, extension introduced a program called the Literacy Through Nutrition Project.
The program helps low-income youth and families in Central Harlem develop reading and writing skills while providing nutrition education.
″When staffers met with participants in our Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, a lot of residents were not stating directly that they could not read or write,″ said Nilda Tirado, director of the food and nutrition program.
″They’d say things like they’ve lost their glasses,″ she related.
The program employs professional food and nutrition experts who train and supervise volunteers to teach nutrition information.
″With some additional training, the Nutrition Teaching Assistants working in Harlem are able to address literacy as well,″ according to a description of the program.
Far from Harlem, in the interior of Alaska, extension agent Gena Delucchi flies to Athabascan villages inaccessible by road to teach livestock rearing, home gardening and food preservation.
Agriculture is not traditional in the Athabascan culture, where hunting and fishing traditionally sustain the villagers.
″Most everything here has to be flown in,″ Delucchi said. ″This makes store-bought food very expensive.″ The villagers are eager to supplement their food supply and improve their health with the fruits of their agricultural efforts, she said.
On the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, 4-H youth clubs are established with the help of extension personnel.
″Our program also offers ranch management and horticulture education,″ said George Black, an extension supervisor. ″It’s important from the start to build credibility, to be culturally sensitive, and to listen to people.″
Extension agents at Pine Ridge teach crop and livestock production practices, safe pesticide use and soil and water conservation.
A number of organizations join to support the 4-H youth clubs. ″The church, the school, the YMCA, the Girl and Boy Scouts are all involved,″ Black said. ″Good things are happening and we’re doing it together.″