Grant to pay for community gardens at Benton-Franklin juvenile center, My Friends Place

By Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldMarch 28, 2014 

Two new community gardens in Kennewick will produce a bounty of fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs. And they'll help teach local youths gardening skills and encourage healthy eating.

The gardens, at the Benton-Franklin Juvenile Justice Center and the My Friends Place teen shelter, are being paid for with a $500 grant through ScottsMiracle-Gro's GRO1000 initiative.

The initiative aims to create 1,000 community gardens and green spaces by 2018.

The Benton-Franklin Community Health Alliance applied for the grant with the Washington State University Extension Master Gardener Program, the juvenile justice center, and the nonprofit that operates the shelter. Youths at the center and the shelter will tend to the gardens, with assistance and mentoring from master gardeners.

"I think they'll learn some gardening skills they can use their whole lives," including to help their families grow food and perhaps improve their job prospects in landscaping and similar fields, said Bill Dixon, a certified master gardener and coordinator of the Master Gardener community garden program.

The two sites expect to use the produce in their kitchens and share some with local food banks.

Carol Moser, executive director of the health alliance, pointed to a community health needs assessment in 2012 that identified increasing access to health care and reducing obesity as top local health needs. The Community Health Improvement Plan released last year by the health alliance and the Benton-Franklin Health District lays out strategies to reach those goals, including promoting and expanding community gardens.

The WSU Extension Master Gardener program was enlisted as a partner in the plan.

It has recently coordinated six backyard gardens at Habitat for Humanity homes in Kennewick and Richland, as well as a garden at Benton Franklin Head Start in Richland.

Eight raised beds have been installed at the juvenile justice center and three at My Friends Place.

Benton and Franklin counties have at least 34 community gardens in total, Dixon said. Most are small and private, associated with groups such as schools or churches.

Four are public, including three in Richland and one in Kennewick. The hope is to add a public one in Pasco soon, Dixon told the Herald.

Daisy Vargas, My Friends Place shelter supervisor, said the young people at her facility are excited about the chance to work in their garden.

She sees the project as beneficial, giving youths the chance to log community service or volunteer hours and perhaps find a new hobby -- one that can enrich their lives.

Darryl Banks, juvenile justice center administrator, noted his facility has partnered with the Master Gardener program on projects and efforts in the past.

Like Vargas, he sees the new garden as a positive.

"We're always looking for creative ways to challenge kids' thinking and connect them to the community," he said. "(The garden) really provides kids with opportunities to learn about nutrition and science, in addition to giving back to the community."

-- Sara Schilling: 582-1529; sschilling@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @saraTCHerald

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