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Homegrown nutrition getting to be a staple in county

Community gardens, such as this 2012 example, are growing in popularity throughout Hubbard County. (Anna Erickson / Enterprise)

By Anna Erickson

Park Rapids community members and students are actively engaging in developing and maintaining Hubbard County Community Gardens.

With funding from the Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP), members of the community and schools have the opportunity to supply themselves with homegrown nutrition.

“It’s amazing how you can see someone’s health improve with exercise and good diet,” said member of the Hubbard County Master Gardeners and retired physician, Dr. Maurice Spangler. 

Since 2010, the Hubbard County community gardens have been encouraging students in the Park Rapids Schools as well as community members of all ages to get outdoors and participate in the health benefits gardening offers.

Recent studies done by the University of New Jersey show urban agriculture contributes to “healthier communities by engaging residents in work and recreation that improves individual and public well-being.”

Due in part to improper nutrition and lack of exercise, two out of three Minnesotans are overweight or obese. By helping communities and schools with the proper tools to engage students and community members to maintain healthier lifestyles, SHIP hopes to decrease chronic diseases and illnesses such as: heart disease, diabetes, a stroke and some cancers.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) continues to help communities and schools, similar to Park Rapids, to take an active stand against improper nutrition and lack of physical activity by offering grants to county public health departments, such as Hubbard County public health, to develop programs and policies that will encourage community and student interaction.

“We started the community gardens with the school and master gardeners,” said Jill Dickinson, Community Educator director at Park Rapids Area Schools. “During the summer, the school age care group helps to plant and harvest and on Fridays, they make their own lunches.”

“We have a strong following,” she added. “We have head start families, youth groups, working people and even retired people gardening with us.”

The Master Gardeners also hold informational classes for people, to educate them on what to do with the food after it has been harvested, Dickinson said.

People rent the plots for $30 a season and at the end of the season they are refunded $15.

“Hubbard County SHIP offered us $4,300 to use towards the gardens,” Spangler said. “We used the money to purchase the treated pine boards from a local mill, got soil from our local garden supplier and the high school was able to use some of the funds to buy materials for the shed which the industrial arts students built.”

This year, the SHIP money is being used to get a well drilled.

One of the other things that happening this year is one of the school prairie committee members is with the DNR and was able to come up with 25 crabapple trees that they were able to get those planted with the help from the students, Spangler said.

“We are going to be using the well to keep the trees watered and eventually be able to use what we harvest from them in jams, jelly and pies,” he added.

With the gardens being located in the open prairie south of Century School, there is no great place for shade. Spangler and his son built the community gardens a pergola.

“When you are trying to encourage people to exercise, we want to have options for them,” Spangler said. “We don’t have a big community center, so if we can set up places where people can walk, bike safely, and grow healthy foods then that is what we are going to try and do.”

Community members of all ages as well as local businesses have contributed to the garden and it’s up keep. From great deals on mulch to high school students building a shed, the community has come together to plant, maintain and harvest a hearty crop and the beginning of a healthier lifestyle.

SHIP recently announced funding will continue in the future as a permanent part of the Minnesota Department of Health annual budget. The dollar amount each county will be eligible for is unknown at this time. SHIP 3.0 plans to begin in November 2013.

Anna Erickson
Anna Erickson is editor of the Wadena Pioneer Journal.
(218) 631-2561