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Creative programs in food deserts teach valuable lessons

Creative programs in food deserts teach valuable lessons

Creative programs in food deserts teach valuable lessons

Nutirtion education and community gardens teach kids healthy ways to eat.


Traveling eight miles to the nearest grocery store doesn’t sound too bad, unless people have to make that trip without a car. Many who live in inner city areas on limited resources don’t have cars and that makes providing a fresh, healthy meal a real challenge.

The University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment and the UK Cooperative Extension Service has been partnering with local agencies in Campbell County to find ways to help people overcome these obstacles.

The Boys & Girls Club is an after-school and summer program for children ages 5 through 18. The club emphasizes graduating from high school, getting fit for life and being ready to serve others. Cooperative Extension believes that a big part of all of these objectives is for kids to learn to grow and eat healthy fruits and vegetables.  

Recently Melissa Pilcher, nutrition education assistant in Campbell County offered a program for children in the Boys & Girls Club branch in Newport. She used UK’s Superstar Chef Goes to the Farmers Market curriculum for the six-week program.            “Kids in Newport don’t have a lot of opportunity to get fresh fruits and vegetables where they live,” she said. “There have been a lot of community garden projects going on in the city, so I wanted to incorporate the Ann Street Garden as a way of showing the kids that their food comes from the earth.”

For one of the lessons, Pilcher led the students on a walk to the Ann Street Community Garden where they were able to see 96 fruit and vegetable plots, meet one of the local gardeners and even harvest a few items.

Campbell County Extension’s horticulture program assistant Sarah Stolz talked with the students about what kinds of crops they saw, composting and harvesting food from the garden.

Stolz explained how much heirloom tomatoes sold for in the store and then compared the cost to a package of heirloom tomato seeds to show the students how much money they could save by planting their own tomatoes.

Pilcher went through the Master Gardener program before she took her current position and said she’s always had a passion for gardening. She wanted to bring that passion to the kids at the Boys & Girls Club.

“I want them to know where their food comes from and what they can do with a little bit of time and effort and just a few seeds,” she said. “I hope they learn that it’s doable; it’s affordable and it’s a healthy way to eat.”

After the garden outing, Pilcher took the students back to the Boys & Girls Club and set up a salsa bar with fresh tomatoes, corn, onions, cilantro, black beans, green chilis and even a little hot sauce and cumin. Many of the students were brave and mixed all the ingredients together, while others were a little more cautious and only tried a few things.

Pilcher was pleased at their willingness to try new things.

“It does my heart good to see kids try things for the first time and really like them. Our ultimate goal is that they develop a taste for these kinds of foods,” she said. “We’d like for them to give up prepackaged, processed foods in favor of fresh fruits and vegetables.”

Community Development Extension Family Consumer Sciences Horticulture Nutrition Sustainability

Contact Information

Scovell Hall Lexington, KY 40546-0064