In Grand Prairie, Budding Gardeners Toil in the Soil and Reap the Rewards

During the past decade, it seems like every school has added a garden. Educators say the benefits range from kids learning about healthier food to improving their social and emotional health. In Grand Prairie, there’s an elementary school that goes way beyond the traditional school garden.

At Lorenzo de Zavala Environmental Science Academy, kids get quite the workout.

On this afternoon, fifth graders shovel soil delivered to the school. They drop it in buckets and a red wheel barrow. The buckets have a message printed in white letters that reads, “Let’s Do This.” This is not a job for the weary.

“Ladies, bring that bucket right there. We’ll fill that one, and then we can carry three buckets and the wagon, and you guys pull the wagon,” says Amanda Rodriguez, the environmental sciences coordinator.

Most of the elementary schools in Grand Prairie have gardens. But here, at Lorenzo’s Garden, kids and adults maintain 29 raised beds, a growing dome, which is kind of like a greenhouse, a chicken coop and a butterfly sanctuary.

“A lot of kids don’t know that your vegetables don’t come from cans or freezer bags or off a number 1 menu or a number 2 menu,” says Sammy Wren, environmental science teacher. “They’ve learned that it comes from the ground and they grow it from a seed or they grow it from a plant.”

To read the full story from KERA, click here.

Community garden has been 5 years in the making [Dallas]

Article by Mariana Greene from the Dallas Morning News

Abigail Heaton, a Stewpot social worker for about 12 years, sees firsthand the healing power of gardening. After working with the downtown Dallas resource center’s clients — homeless and at-risk women, men and children — Heaton describes in metaphors how cultivating plant life can help humans blossom.

Certified in horticultural therapy, Heaton, 34, considers the new Encore Park Community Garden, across the street from the Stewpot, an important tool in the care of approximately 300 people who go in and out of the center’s doors each day.

“What happens when you neglect yourself?” she imagines herself saying to a client who has neglected to keep his vegetable plants watered.

About composting green scraps from the nearby Bridge Homeless Assistance Center’s kitchen, where Stewpot clients get meals, Heaton, manager of casework services, might explain: “You take garbage and turn it into something that is valuable.” Responsibility, caring for resources, putting fresh food in one’s body and just a peaceful few moments inhaling the scents of healthy, warm soil, perfumed flowers and herbs’ fragrant foliage are benefits Heaton and her cohort expect their clients to reap.

The project, five years in the making, had its first Stewpot plot planted last week. Before the transplants went into the ground, a handful of people gathered for the weekly garden club meeting. Anyone who was interested in participating, including Stewpot clients and garden volunteers, was welcome to attend. The club meets every Thursday morning for a round-table discussion of the garden’s needs as well as progress reports. Participants one week may not show up the next, but Heaton expects that.

“It’s not a typical garden club,” Heaton says. “People are mostly interested in food. We start every meeting with a snack.”

At the initial meeting, Heaton passed around clementines. “Take one, eat it and save the peel to put into the compost pile.” While the 10 participants ate the juicy citrus, they took turns sharing their given names (and in some cases their street names) and hearing about the 4-inch transplants that had been distributed to each person in the room.

Edible herbs are to go into the first plot set aside for the Stewpot. Heaton encourages pinching leaves and taking whiffs as each species is passed around the table. Like a teacher, she gently encourages the gardeners-to-be to voice knowledge or opinions.

“When you’re stressed,” Heaton says, “you go out to the herb garden and smoosh some leaves between your fingers. Herbs don’t mind being pinched.”

“It makes you smile when you smell it,” says Freddie Jefferson, a member of nearby First Presbyterian Church, which established the Stewpot in 1975. He is one of the first to rent a 4-by-4-foot plot in the new community garden.

While the eventual goal is to have a quarter of the plots leased to Stewpot clients (underwritten, if needed, by donations to pay a $25 deposit and the annual $75 space fee), the remainder of the 88 raised beds may be leased by Stewpot volunteers, First Presbyterian members and downtown residents. There are 25 plots not yet spoken for.

To read the whole article, click here.

The poor are treated like criminals everywhere, even at the grocery store

From the Washington Post:

Want to see a look of pure hatred? Pull out an EBT card at the grocery store.

Now that my kids are grown and gone, my Social Security check is enough to keep me from qualifying for government food benefits. But I remember well when we did qualify for a monthly EBT deposit, a whopping $22 — and that was before Congress cut SNAP benefits in November 2013. Like 70 percent of people receiving SNAP benefits, I couldn’t feed my family on that amount. But I remember the comments from middle-class people, the assumptions about me and my disability and what the poor should and shouldn’t be spending money on.

Anger toward those living below the poverty line seems to only be increasing. Maine and Missouri have proposed bills limiting residents’ food choices if they use SNAP. Missouri House Bill 813 would bar the state’s 930,000 food stamp recipients from using their benefits to buy cookies, chips, soda, energy drinks, steak and seafood. (The legislature also implemented mandatory drug testing for TANF applicants in 2011.) If the bill becomes law, a Missourian can’t buy a can of tuna with an EBT card. Tortilla chips to go with salsa? Nope. Flank steak — tough, stringy and the only cut of beef I can afford — is off-limits, too. Who are these people, and what makes them think that what we eat is their business? And given that the average food stamp allotment in my state in 2013 came out to just $1.41 per person per meal, I wonder if they understand that recipients couldn’t buy lobster if they wanted to.

Read the full article here.

Dallas council OKs garden sales despite corn concerns

From the Dallas Morning News City Hall Blog:

A Dallas City Council discussion Wednesday over corn stalks gave audience members an earful and nearly halted ordinance changes outlining agriculture and produce sales in the city.

The proposed measures to allow Dallas gardeners to sell what they grow narrowly passed in an 8:7 vote. A suggestion to revisit the changes in another committee failed in a tie vote.

The Plan Commission’s Zoning Ordinance Committee recommended the changes last month after numerous talks and a January tour of community gardens.

The code changes allow gardeners to sell what they grow offsite, if the garden is in a residential area, or onsite if it is in a commercial area. They also allow gardens to have chickens and fish and outline how tall raised gardening beds and structures can be without counting as additional structures on the property.

The recommendations came after gardening groups complained that restrictions on selling produce hurt efforts to expand food growth in the city, especially in areas classified as food deserts.

But City Council members Sandy Greyson and Dwaine Caraway couldn’t stomach the idea of sky-high corn stalks in the city, which they feared allowing sales would encourage.

“I can’t imagine there aren’t neighborhoods in this city that don’t want people growing crops in their front yard,” Greyson said.

Council member Jennifer Staubach Gates weighed in with concerns about the changes loosening restrictions on growing structures, which she feared could lead to more sheds and carports in front yards.

Council members Carolyn Davis and Scott Griggs disagreed with the concerns, noting that residents are allowed to grow corn now, and saying they haven’t noticed many cornfields in the city.

“I’ve only seen corn in one gentleman’s yard…and I think it’s absolutely wonderful,” Griggs said. “In Oak Cliff, we may not have access to as many Central Markets or Whole Foods stores as people up north… so I would certainly support anyone’s right to grow fresh vegetables in their front yard.”

At least one council member found the lengthy discussion corny.

“I’m worried that we’re engaging in discrimination against corn,” council member Philip Kingston said, to laughter and applause from gardeners in the audience.

Greyson, Caraway, Gates, Adam Medrano, Monica Alonzo, Rick Callahan and Sheffie Kadane voted to take the item back to the Quality of Life Committee, against Griggs, Kingston, Davis, Jerry Allen, Lee Kleinman, Vonciel Jones Hill and Tennell Atkins.

After that failed in a tie, Medrano joined the other seven in approving the changes as proposed. Mayor Mike Rawlings was out of town.

To read the full article, click here.

Mississippi: Thousands more kids to get free school meals

An additional 17,000 Mississippi children will be able to eat free breakfast and lunch at school thanks to a new system that automatically identifies eligible students.

Completed last month by the Mississippi Department of Education, the system eliminates the need for parents to fill out applications. Instead, it automatically finds eligible students by matching school enrollment lists against the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, records.

More than 300,000 households in Mississippi – or roughly 22 percent of the population – receive SNAP benefits, which used to be known as food stamps, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Direct certification is an important process to ensure that students who are eligible for benefits receive nutrition through USDA meal programs,” said Scott Clements, director of MDE’s Office of Child Nutrition, in a press release. “It directly benefits some of Mississippi’s most vulnerable children.”

Sixty-three percent of K-12 students already receive free meals at school in Mississippi, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. The new program would boost that rate to about 67 percent.

Read the full article here.

Texas Households on Food Stamps has Almost Tripled Since 2000

By Alexa Ura, From The Texas Tribune

The number of households in Texas receiving food stamps has almost tripled since 2000, according to figures released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

In 2013, 1.3 million Texas households received aid from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP — up from 505,968 in 2000. The percentage of Texas households on food stamps increased from 6.9 percent in 2000 to 14 percent in 2013. Nationwide, 13.5 percent of households received food stamps in 2013.

Celia Cole, CEO of the Texas Food Bank Network, said the necessity for food stamps increased significantly during the 2008 economic recession, and the high number of recipients indicates that many poor Texans are still “struggling to make ends meet.”

“I think they’re facing a harder time recovering despite overall gains in the economy” in recent years, Cole said.

SNAP provides assistance to low-income people and families through Lone Star cards that can be used like credit cards at stores that accept food stamps. In Texas, a family of four must make less than $38,868 a year to qualify.

The census data includes SNAP participation rates among Texas households in which at least one individual received SNAP benefits in the last year. Texans’ participation in the program remained stable from 2012 to 2013.

Read the full article here. 

Sign the Petition to Save SNAP

Next week, Congress is poised to begin consideration of its FY2016 Budget Resolution – and SNAP (formerly food stamps) is being targeted for cuts.

We need your voice – and the voices of thousands of others – to say that Congress should support SNAP.

To help prevent SNAP cuts for hungry Texans, please sign this petition yourself, and share it with your friends before March 24th!

Click here to sign the petition 

After-school dinner program a success in Dallas

The kitchen at Highland Meadows Elementary School is a busy one these days. When all of the lunch shifts are completed, workers are busy chopping and cooking up additional meals for dozens of students.

They know some of the children will return to the cafeteria for dinner before heading home.

“Their lunch is so early in the day, by the time it’s 3 o’clock, they’re starving all over again,” explained Assistant Principal Annette Fields.

Fields says Highland Meadows is among Dallas Independent School District campuses now offering an after-school supper program.

“It’s been taking off like crazy,” Field said.

Ninety percent of the students in Dallas ISD are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Educators say there are a lot of children across the district who go home hungry.

Like many school districts across the county, Dallas ISD decided to take advantage of a federal after-school meal program.

Dora Rivas, executive director of food and child nutrition the district, said she has watched the program grow from 37 schools to 136 schools over the past two years.

“The students — where we have the program — have found that … they are able to go through enrichment and tutorial programs and they get re-energized so they can make it through,” she said.


Read the rest, and see the television news segment, here.

Beyond Free Lunch: Schools Open Food Pantries For Hungry Families

John Still K-8 School, home of the Tigers, serves Meadowview, a picturesque name for a Sacramento, Calif., neighborhood blanketed in concrete and bare of trees.

There are 970 students on John Still’s campus, and every one of them qualifies for the free and reduced meal program, which provides breakfast, lunch and a supper snack.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 8.6 million children experienced food insecurity in 2013. When food gaps become chronic in these households, poor nutrition and stress can turn into long-term health consequences for adults and children.

More schools are stepping up to help these families. Feeding America, a network of U.S. food banks, says its School Pantry Program served more than 21 million meals to nearly 110,000 children nationwide in 2013 through a variety of models — including boxed meals, and sites where families choose items for their meals.

Amaya Weiss, the learning support specialist at John Still, runs the Youth and Family Resource Center, which houses a food pantry for students and their families.

The food pantry has “lots of Top Ramen, lots of soups, tomatoes,” Weiss says. “My families love pasta, because it’s easy to make. And sometimes the kids just come in here and say, ‘I’m still hungry, can I have something to eat?’ And then we give them that, too.”

Read the rest at Texas Public Radio: