(05/23/22) COVINGTON, La. — Starting a community garden is an admirable accomplishment. But building it into a resource that can serve a wide range of community needs for years to come takes some extra effort.
In Covington, the LSU AgCenter has partnered with the newly formed Covington Community Garden nonprofit and other organizations to do just that.
Local AgCenter agents are part of a coalition whose members believe the Covington Community Garden can do more than just provide fresh produce. It can act as a real-life classroom where people learn about horticulture and nutrition. And as an attractive amenity located on a previously vacant city lot, it also can be a source of community pride.
“Community gardens are excellent facilities that provide horticultural experiences to all members of the community,” said AgCenter horticulture agent William Afton.
Finding ways to engage residents — both young and old — has been key to the group’s work. Hands-on learning days, which were held this month, are one way to encourage involvement in the garden and spread the word about gardening practices, healthful eating habits and more.
William Pitcher Junior High students installed fencing, gates, plant materials and container planting beds. Before reporting to the garden for their workdays, the students received classroom instruction from Afton along with William Pitcher teacher Brannon Breland and Tim Ellzey, the community garden’s manager.
“The garden education and workdays helped students see the process and work that goes into installing a community garden,” Ellzey said.
“They have taken what they learned in the classroom and used that knowledge to make a significant difference in giving back to their community,” added Stephen Cefalu, a teacher at William Pitcher Junior High.
While they were at the garden, the students heard from AgCenter agent Valerie Vincent, who taught a lesson on the MyPlate food guide, and Marla Rabalais, of the St. Tammany Parish Hospital Parenting Center, about the importance of hydration.
This type of comprehensive education and engagement is the long-term goal of the Covington Community Garden. With help from the Mayor’s Council on Healthy Lifestyles — the local coalition of the AgCenter-led Healthy Communities initiative — the garden is making plans to step up educational efforts.
The council is chaired by Vincent and Brittny Costella, of the Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center. Rabalais is a member.
One idea that’s in the works is called a NEST.
“NEST stands for nutrition education station,” Vincent said. “We are working to make policy, systems and environmental changes in the community that support healthier lifestyles. Having a community teaching garden with a space that allows planting, growing, harvesting and preparing of produce along with providing the nutrition education and information for the crops grown will hopefully increase healthy food consumption and reduce food waste.”
Michael Hunley, a local PTA representative and architect, is helping design the NEST. Monnie Greer, of Evangeline Natural Resources, has been instrumental in helping install infrastructure needed for the garden.
The Covington Community Garden was launched through a cooperative endeavor agreement with the city government. The garden is supported by numerous local partners. For more information, visit https://tinyurl.com/GreauxCovington.
Students work to install fencing at the community garden. Photo provided by Valerie Vincent/LSU AgCenter
LSU AgCenter agent Valerie Vincent leads a group in yoga poses at the Covington Community Garden. At left, Stephen Cefalu and William Afton demonstrate the warrior friends pose as the students demonstrate the twin pose. Photo provided by Valerie Vincent/LSU AgCenter
Agent Valerie Vincent teaches a hands-on MyPlate activity as Marla Rabalais looks on. Photo provided by Valerie Vincent/LSU AgCenter