U Grow program provides hands-on approach to food security

UGrow
Photo courtesy of U Grow

Buncombe County’s numbers regarding food security are often quoted to the point that we become immune to their impact.  Feeding America estimates that 15.4 percent of county residents are considered food insecure, defined as “an economic or social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.”  Translated into less complex terms, some 37,320 of Buncombe County’s 241,801 citizens are not completely sure of where their next meal is coming from.  Other reports have found that the rate of food insecurity for children in Buncombe County is even higher at nearly 26 percent.

The solutions for addressing this problem are as complex as the factors that cause it, but a program in Black Mountain is striving for a workable solution.

U Grow, a partnership between Bounty & Soul and Eat Smart Black Mountain, offers a hand-to-mouth approach to food security by encouraging families and individuals to grow their own food. “We launched [U Grow] last year as a pilot program, and it went so well we decided to not only continue it, but to expand on it,” says Ali Casparian, founder and executive director of Bounty & Soul.

Bounty & Soul is a free food distribution program that addresses malnutrition and food insecurity by providing produce donated from farmers, grocery stores, and the community garden network Gardens That Give WNC. U Grow takes Bounty & Soul’s program a step further, by teaching the nonprofit’s clients how to grow in their own garden spaces, be it a container garden or a small raised bed.  Unlike conventional community gardens, the U Grow program helps participants to grow food in their own yards.

U Grow provides for garden necessities including lumber for garden beds, organic soil and plant starts either through funding or community donations. The program also connects new growers to a “garden mentor” who provides help and support through the growing season through site-visits or over-the-phone support.

Participants in the program are asked to document their growing experience with pictures and to keep a journal of their progress. This year’s program also had enough funds to provide four participants with raised bed gardens.

The program also expanded this year to include container gardening, which allows those who may not have the space for a garden, or those with unfavorable garden conditions, an opportunity to learn how to grow. Over 50 people were able to take home containers to start their own home gardens.

U Grow gardeners will receive ongoing support at a show and tell at the Bounty & Soul market held on the second Tuesday of every month. During the show and tell, participants can share the successes and challenges from their gardening adventures, as well as pictures of the fruits of their labor. Participants will also be able to learn more about nutritious ways to cook the food they grow during cooking demonstrations held at every Bounty & Soul market.

The selection process for U Grow participants involves an application, an interview and a site visit to determine eligibility and feasibility. For more information, contact Casparian at 419-0533 or info@bountyandsoul.org.

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About Josh O'Conner
Josh O’Conner is an urban/land use planner with a passion for urban agriculture. He can be reached at @kalepiracy or @joshoconner on Twitter or e-mailed at josh.oconner@gmail.com.

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