Community gardening health center comes to Shreveport


For more than two years, the Stoner Hill home sat weather-worn, ravaged, barricaded – unlike the thriving community garden a stone’s throw away.

No more.

The city of Shreveport recently completed $158,250 in renovations to the building at 1613 Martha St. to serve as a new health center where residents can learn about healthy living, participate in food preparation classes and take children next to the Valencia Stoner Hill Community Garden.

The event “We grow together!” The campus will likely open next spring, said Grace Peterson, an LSU AgCenter area nutrition officer working with the campus.

Meanwhile, the campus will host an open house and housewarming party from noon to 6 p.m. on Tuesday, December 5, for those who wish to view the space or drop items off its wish list.

Items still needed are items in a variety of price ranges, including pepper shakers, Walmart gift cards, electric mixers, furniture and more, Peterson said.

Visitors can also visit the nearby community garden, which will continue to host weekly classes and monthly meetings on special topics.

Healthy lifestyle

Members of the Red River Coalition of Gardeners, a nonprofit organization that operates nine community gardens across the city, have held outreach events at the Valencia Community Garden near the newly renovated building for more than three years.

Cookie Coleman, who coordinates events at the Stoner Hill Community Garden, said the garden fascinates children and their parents.

“We show them what’s in the garden and tell them it’s the same food at the grocery store,” she laughed. “Carrots are our big hit. We even have teenagers and adults who don’t know where a carrot comes from.”

Jackie Jordan often takes her grandchildren, aged 5 and 9, to community gardening events on Thursdays.

Jordan, who lives in a flower-lined house near Viking Street, lit up when talking about the garden.

“It introduces kids to fruits and vegetables they’ve never seen before,” she said. “Kids come in to eat kale and greens and things you wouldn’t think they would eat.”

A big success for her grandchildren was helping harvest sweet potatoes.

“My grandkids had a blast. They got their hands in the dirt,” she said, “and we baked our Thanksgiving pies with them.”

Peterson said the vision for the health center considers personal and community health issues.

She said there are barriers to healthy eating for many people in Shreveport, including a lack of access for residents who must walk more than a mile to reach healthy food and a lack of financial means for those who cannot afford healthy foods.

Many people also don’t know what it means to “eat healthy,” Peterson said. Even if they do, people often don’t know how to prepare healthy meals.

The new health center will remove all of those barriers, Peterson said. Healthy food grows next door in the community garden, and the new space will allow community members to cook alongside We Grow Together! protesters.

“A very important part of being healthy is feeling empowered to make healthy decisions for your life,” Peterson said. “That’s what it’s really about, bringing meaning and empowerment.”

Sowing seeds

The We Grow Together! The campus stems, in part, from the Shreveport-Caddo 2030 Master Plan, which calls for locally grown foods to be available and for all residents to have access to nutritional food and education.

“This type of community health center model will help both,” Peterson said. “But it’s mostly a question of access.”

Peterson said the new health center has been in the works for years.

She was already working with nutrition programs in Valencia Park and with the city’s parks department when she received a call from the city’s Community Renewal Department asking if she would be interested in using the Martha Street property for a education center.

“We told them it would be a great center for education, hands-on food preparation and demonstrations,” she said. “Although people hear about it, they don’t always make the connection between diet and health.”

Peterson said she is working to secure an agreement with the LSU Ag Center and the City of Shreveport to bring the center to life.

City officials shared plans to build a pavilion near the center, Peterson said, which the center would use to host events year-round.

“Once we have that in place, we can have more programming,” she said.

Community Development Manager Bonnie Moore said construction of the pavilion is scheduled for winter 2018.

She added that one of the department’s top priorities is to improve health outcomes for city residents.

“We worked with several groups in the Stoner Hill area to further the great work they were already doing around healthy living,” Moore said. “Dr. Peterson had this wonderful idea of ​​creating a garden-based nutrition program around a healthy lifestyle…residents could grow food and prepare it on site.”

Key elements of the health center’s vision are mentorship training and community volunteers, Peterson said.

“If this is to be sustainable and replicable, we need committed community volunteers,” she said.

The community has already raised about $6,000 for the center, Peterson said. Local business Slow Food has also agreed to fundraise and match up to $3,000.

Angie White, president of Slow Food North Louisiana, said the fundraiser has already raised nearly $2,000.

“It breaks my heart that so many people don’t know how to cook anymore,” White said. “With this, we will be able to organize cooking classes. If people can grow their own food but don’t know how to cook their food, we won’t close the loop.”

More a garden

Coleman said the center will allow families to do something that is becoming increasingly obsolete: spend time together.

“People need to get into the habit of slowing down so they can talk and eat as a family,” Coleman said. “The goal is that the children can learn to help with the meal, the family will prepare the meal and then sit down to eat the meal.”

Inviting children into the garden helps build their relationship with the land. It even causes them to eat vegetables they might otherwise refuse, Coleman said.

“They are always fascinated by the garden and the process of growing, tending and tending to it,” she said. “They plant the seed, they water it, they watch it grow…they eat it.”

That’s just part of the magic of a community garden, Coleman said.

“People think we’re just growing gardens. It’s so much bigger than that,” she said.

If you are going to

What: Community Garden Events at Valencia Community Garden

We grow together! Campus Open House and Housewarming Party

12:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. Tuesday, December 5

Check out the new space, stop at the garden and drop off some needed supplies.

Thursday Community Garden Class

4-5 p.m. every Thursday

Learn hot to grow and cook nutritious food

WGT! Saturday lessons

9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., the second Saturday of each month

All events are held at The Garden, 1613 Martha St., Shreveport

For more information: Cookie Coleman at (318) 617-7950 or Grace Peterson at (318) 741-7430.