Closing the Gap in Food Insecurity in Delaware County

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About 12% of Delaware County residents are considered food insecure, which the USDA defines as “a lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods”. The rural nature of Delaware County makes access to nutritious food particularly challenging due to a lack of public transportation and the distance to fresh food outlets. Numerous studies have shown that gardening greatly reduces food insecurity while improving overall health and well-being. With funding from Care Compass Network, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Delaware County is delivering gardening classes, building new community gardens, and providing ongoing assistance to participating gardeners.

Seed to Supper is a comprehensive beginning vegetable gardening curriculum designed for adults gardening on a budget. The program has been adopted by Cornell Cooperative Extension of NYS as a shared program of Oregon Food Bank’s Learning Gardens. Garden educators and Master Gardener Volunteers teach the Seed to Supper curriculum to interested community members. The courses highlight practical, low-cost techniques for building, planning, planting, maintaining, and celebrating the harvest of a successful vegetable garden.

In spring of 2020, weekly Seed to Supper classes were delivered virtually to residents of three target communities: Downsville, Walton, and Stamford. Participants received the Seed to Supper text-booklet, starter plants, seeds, and gardening tools for use in their home or community gardens. During the summer, community gardens were constructed by Extension educators and volunteers. In Stamford, a large fenced-in garden with 10’ x 12’ and 10’ x 10’ plots was erected on private land near dense housing and a senior living facility. The owner of the property and members of a local church provided labor and oversight during the growing season. In Downsville, an existing small school garden was expanded into a large community garden with over 900 square feet of bed space. Teachers and support staff are already working gardening into science lessons, and plan to include the resulting produce in school lunches. Strawberries and garlic have been planted this fall by students in the new garden raised beds. The recently completed garden in Walton is unique in that it is on hospital grounds at UHS Delaware Valley Hospital; the garden features raised beds and is situated next to a gazebo and picnic tables. Staff and patients alike are looking forward to gardening next to the hospital in the spring.

Participants in this year’s Seed to Supper program reported an increased knowledge of food gardening, more confidence in their ability to grow a portion of their own food, and improved access to garden food resources in their communities. In 2021, we will train additional facilitators and expand the program to six other towns in Delaware County.

Submitted by Carla Hegeman Crim, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Delaware County