Arkansas AmeriCorps program takes year off amid host search

September 16, 2018

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — GardenCorps is looking for a new program host site to continue helping community gardens in Northwest Arkansas and across the state.

Arkansas GardenCorps is a six-year, state-based AmeriCorps program currently hosted by the Access to Healthy Foods Research Group at the Arkansas Children’s Research Institute in Little Rock. It placed service members at 15 different sites throughout the state this past year, the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

GardenCorps members specifically serve in school and community gardens to develop and maintain gardens, conduct garden-based education and build volunteer and community support for gardens. The program’s host helps to connect members to their service sites.

Program Director Emily English said GardenCorps will be taking a year off while it looks for a new organization to act as host. Organizations around the state have expressed interest, and meetings were recently held to discuss possible organization collaborations and the future of the program, she said.

“For many years, Arkansas Children’s Research Institute has supported Arkansas GardenCorps in association with AmeriCorps,” according to a statement from the institute. “ACRI recognizes the community benefit of Arkansas GardenCorps and is actively assisting with the search for a new sponsor by funding program staff during FY19.”

Anyone interested in becoming a service site or service member can take a survey at arkansasgardencorps.com, English said. They still plan to have a 2019-20 service year.

AmeriCorps has programs nationwide that work to address a variety of community needs through different programs and create jobs for their members. Members commit their time to address community needs.

In Arkansas, AmeriCorps members have been able to serve more than 80,000 people. AmeriCorps has programs — including GardenCorps — operating in all 75 counties, according to its website.

Jonathan McArthur viewed his GardenCorps experience in 2013 as an internship, he said, and used the knowledge he gained from his horticulture degree to help create the first Samaritan Garden at the nonprofit group’s Rogers site. The nonprofit then hired him as garden program coordinator.

McArthur wrote a grant and supervised a service member this year who did not know much about food health and gardening, but put her passion with her knowledge of teaching to create a curriculum for 8- to 16-year-old students.

“There are plenty of service members that come in without any experience or totally different backgrounds because they are interested in broadening their horizons,” he said.

Tri Cycle Farms and Apple Seeds, both based in Fayetteville, are two long-time host sites for GardenCorps and other AmeriCorps service members.

Kyra Ramsey, Apple Seeds farm co-director, said a three out of nine people on their team are AmeriCorps Vista members, which is a one-year commitment. Members help with day-to-day operations and with building capacity.

Apple Seeds works to teach thousands of students in the area nutritional principals and how to cook. Last year the farm reached about 7,000 students, and it is set to reach even more this year, Ramsey said.

“With our growth, we could not have done this without AmeriCorps,” she said.

Volunteers are also a large part of their workforce, but they don’t always make the same level of commitment as service members.

Volunteers from GardenCorps and AmeriCorps NCCC, which is a full-time, residential, team-based program for young adults who often work on larger construction projects, have also helped Apple Seeds.

Nonprofit groups, educational institutions and state agencies can apply for grants through one of the programs, which in turn helps pay service members. Members earn an education award at the end of their stint — ranging from a few months to a year — which provides money that can be used for college tuition or to pay off student loans.

Karley Kindberg has been working at Tri Cycle as a GardenCorps member since June. The money is not great and she works another part-time job, she said, but the internship-like experience is exactly what she wanted out of college.

Kindberg does hands-on work as a garden manager, harvesting and weighing vegetables and fruits. She knew she had a passion for sustainability, which was her minor in at Missouri State University, but she did not have much knowledge of how gardening worked.

“I want to own my own nonprofit urban farm one day,” she said. “If I didn’t have the passion, I wouldn’t be here. You definitely give more than you get in money, but I’ve learned so much already.”


Information from: Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.nwaonline.com

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