(05/11/21) COVINGTON, La. — More than 60 people recently participated in the Covington Community Garden’s first Community Harvest Day, where they had a chance to hear expert tips on gardening, enjoy hands-on activities and harvest vegetables.
The garden, which started in 2016, has been revitalized with help from LSU AgCenter agent William Afton and Pamala McKay, of God’s Unchanging Hands Feeding Ministry. The garden helps supply fresh produce to the feeding ministry.
At the Harvest Day on May 1, participants harvested carrots, beets and squash, and learned about planting summer crops from Afton. Members of the garden’s Kids Club prepared smoothies using a bike-powered blender, made a scarecrow for the garden and planted a beanpole.
“The Kids Club has been a great way for our youngest residents to learn about growing, cooking and eating fresh produce,” said Valerie Vincent, LSU AgCenter regional coordinator for family and consumer sciences.
Vincent co-chairs the Kids Club with Northshore pediatrician Dr. Katie Queen. The club, which is free and open to all youth in St. Tammany Parish, provides members access to planting and harvest events at the garden, field trips, healthy recipes, plants to grow at home, a garden club power bracelet and a MyPlate booklet. They also learn from experts about growing and planting gardens.
The idea for the garden revitalization came from a 2018 community needs assessment conducted by the LSU AgCenter Healthy Communities program. Public input indicated a desire to expand the garden and its offerings to include public events and learning opportunities.
To help accomplish this goal, Healthy Communities adopted the project through the Get Moving, Be Healthy committee of the Covington Mayor’s Council for Healthy Lifestyles. Vincent, who chairs the committee, partnered with McKay in 2019 to secure a Louisiana Healthy Communities Coalition grant to expand the garden.
Plans to offer a community event in March 2020 were delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, but the group continued to work on redesigning the garden to fit the needs of the community. The garden also received a mini-grant from the Northshore Community Foundation in 2021.
Timothy Ellzey was brought on as garden manager in December 2020, bringing a wealth of experience and ideas to the project.
Community engagement is critical to any community garden, and the Covington Community Garden is no exception. A community workday is offered each Friday, allowing residents to gain hands-on experience growing food. Excess produce from the garden is given to the local feeding ministry, which runs entirely on donations.
In February 2021, Vincent and fellow Get Moving, Be Healthy committee member Queen challenged McKay and the feeding ministry to honor American Heart Month by cooking lower-sodium meals. The trio worked together to review the menu. McKay began using the herbs from the community garden in place of added sodium.
“Many of the residents that receive hot meals from us already suffer from a chronic disease like hypertension,” McKay said. “Using the herbs from the garden in the hot meals served will hopefully inspire others to make the change.”
The Harvest Day event was made possible by the LSU AgCenter, START Clinic of St. Tammany, Our Lady of Lake Health, Bridging the Gap Ministry and Rouses Market. The Harvest Day also featured the Yum Yum Gimme Sum food truck, which offered healthful options such as roasted nuts and salads.
The Covington Community Garden is a partnership between the LSU AgCenter, God’s Unchanging Hands Feeding Ministry, the City of Covington, Covington Mayor’s Council for Healthy Lifestyles and Mayor Mark Johnson.
“Mayor Mark has been a great supporter of the garden and has helped secure donations from the community to help obtain items needed to sustain the planting schedule,” Vincent said.
Madelyn Queen, 2, enjoys a freshly picked and washed summer squash. Photo provided by Katie Queen
Harvest Day attendees pick carrots and explore the container garden. Photo by Valerie Vincent/LSU AgCenter