Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 6:28 PM on Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Southern peninsula awarded $110,500 for People's Gardens

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer

Christmas arrived early for the Homer Soil and Water Conservation District. On Friday, during the statewide Alaska Farm Bureau meeting held at Land's End Resort, Bob Jones, state conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, presented HSWCD with a $110,500 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture People's Gardens.

The grant will be used by HSWCD, along with MAPP (Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships) of the Southern Kenai Peninsula, to create and develop at least 18 People's Gardens in peninsula communities from Ninilchik south.

Accepting the award were HSWCD board members Paul Castellani, Otto Kilcher, Chris Rainwater and Pete Roberts; HSWCD staff Devony Lehner and Tara Schmidt; and Kyra Wagner, representing MAPP of the Southern Kenai Peninsula.

"We are pleased to receive this grant and put it to good use," said Rainwater. "Hooking up deep pockets with deep products, that's what we're doing today. ... This is a rebuilding of our ability to feed ourselves."

The grant will be divided into sub-grants of $1,000-$5,000 to develop public gardens, install fencing to protect gardens from wildlife and provide educational opportunities within the gardens. A process for applying for one of the sub-grants is being developed by HSWCD so interested parties can begin applying in January, according to Lehner.

In presenting the award, Jones praised Homer for successfully navigating through some tough competition, with 366 applications from across the nation received and only 10 selected.

Those 10 grants will support People's Gardens in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Michigan and Ohio. The project's goal is to combat malnutrition while supporting local and regional food systems.

"Planting a garden can unite neighborhoods around a common effort and inspire communities to find solutions to challenges," Jones said in the press release announcing the award. "For example, in the Southern Kenai Peninsula, the gardens will improve awareness of and access to healthy foods."

Drawing its name from President Lincoln's description of USDA as the "People's Department," the People's Garden Initiative was launched on the anniversary of Lincoln's birthday on Feb. 12, 2009, by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. It challenged employees to create gardens at USDA facilities and has since become a collaborative effort of more than 600 local and national organizations working to develop community and school gardens across the United States.

More than 1,400 People's Gardens exist in all 50 states, three U.S. territories and five foreign countries. Their sizes vary, but People's Gardens share three components: they must benefit the community; they must be collaborative; and they should incorporate sustainable practices. An existing garden can be declared a People's Garden as long as it incorporates those three criteria.

Produce from gardens located on USDA-owned or leased property is donated to those in need. At the end of October, one million pounds of fresh produce had been donated to local food banks and charities.

What was it about Homer's application that caught the attention of those reviewing the 300-plus applications?

Schmidt and Lehner point to Homer's emphasis on working collaboratively, a strong educational component, the opportunity to offer healthy food choices and a desire to strengthen the southern peninsula's food security.

Underscoring that emphasis, the announcement said, "These sustainable community gardens will give residents direct access to fresh vegetables where deliveries of food supplies are vulnerable to disruptions in transportation systems."

For more information about applying for a grant, call Homer Soil and Water Conservation District at 235-8177.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.