On April 7, 2011, the Commission on Health approved the Family Garden project of the Backyard Initiative’s Growing in the Backyard Citizen Health Action Team (CHAT). The CHAT stated in their proposal to the Commission: “This project will empower Backyard residents to produce their own healthy foods, increase connections to the local food system, and increase each family’s understanding about how the food system works. Families participating in the Family Gardens project will actively take responsibility for creating and maintaining a series of gardens throughout the Backyard. These activities will also increase a sense of belonging and community for each family.”
The Commission on Health, a group composed primarily of residents who live in the “Backyard” – in Powderhorn Park, Central, Corcoran, or one of the four neighborhoods in Phillips – meets every month at the Cultural Wellness Center. The Commission first met in February 2010 to put community residents at the center of the Backyard Initiative, a partnership between Allina and these communities. Its work is to monitor the health of the community, build the community’s capacity for taking responsibility for its own health, and support efforts to maintain and improve the health of Backyard residents. The Commission gives guidance and support to community residents who work together in Citizen Health Action Teams (CHATs) on projects that will lead to greater health for all community residents.
The members of the Growing in the Backyard CHAT told the Commission that their project is addressing the lack of access to affordable healthy food for families by helping people to overcome the barriers to growing their own food. In the health assessment conducted in 2009, 97% of Backyard residents interviewed said that affordable locally grown fruits and vegetables were very important to them.
The Growing in the Backyard CHAT has partnered with the Youth Farm and Market Project to focus on families gardening together. They have heard stories of youth coming home with vegetables the youth have grown, and the parents not knowing how to cook the vegetables. They state in their proposal, “Our CHAT feels that people growing food, preparing food, and becoming an active participant in the local food system is integral in preserving and maintaining the family as an institution.” This summer they will launch a pilot for this concept with eight families of youth who garden in the Youth Farm and Market Project.
Their proposal also calls for a Food Systems Navigator who will “connect families to the local food scene and the network of experienced gardeners in the Backyard. The Navigator will also create activities that engage the whole family, thus strengthening families’ connections.”
The goals for the Family Gardens are to:
- Build a stronger, more connected local food system within the Backyard
- Teach families how to grow and preserve their own food and increase self-sufficiency
- Connect with and utilize the Midtown Global Market as a community resource
- Build leadership amongst families in the Backyard
- Build connections with gardeners/urban farmers and people who are interested in gardening/urban farming matters in the Backyard
- Promote gardening related resources that the CHAT can provide the community to support new gardeners
- Gain knowledge and experience about gardening and nutrition
Each family will build a 4×4 raised bed garden. They will receive garden kits of “menu gardens,” with plants that can together create a whole dish, such as spaghetti sauce, salsa, salads, or okra stew. The CHAT members told the Commission, “The Family Garden Project acknowledges and honors that there are foods and ways of gardening/farming that are preferred by each respective cultural group, and will do it’s best to incorporate those preferences. Families will learn about the health benefits of healthy foods from the ground to the table.”
The Assessment CHAT of the Backyard Initiative has as one of its tasks to support each CHAT project in creating and implementing an evaluation of its work. The Assessment CHAT will be guiding the Growing in the Backyard CHAT to capture the gardeners’ accomplishments and the challenges and insights that the families experience so that more people in the Backyard can learn to garden, preserve and cook with the food grown in their own backyard.
If you live in the Backyard area, in one of the four neighborhoods of Phillips, or in Powderhorn Park, Corcoran, or Central, you are welcome to come to the community meetings on the 3rd Thursday of every month at 5 PM at the Cultural Wellness Center, 1527 East Lake Street, in the Franklin Bank Building.