Indiana, PA - Indiana County

Chevy Chase prepares to start community garden

by HEATHER ROTH hroth@indianagazette.net on March 24, 2013 3:00 AM

Looking for a way to encourage healthy eating, supply a food kitchen and keep the area’s children occupied, the Chevy Chase Community Action Council Inc. is starting a community garden near the community center.

And they’re looking for volunteers for a work day on April 6, preparing land donated by the estate of the late Ben Cunningham.

“We said, what better way to build on what we already do?” said Executive Director Diane Reese-Walters. “So what we want to do is help (children) cultivate their garden, the kids take ownership of the garden, (and any vegetables) left over is going to be used in our soup kitchen.”

Reese-Walters said the idea grew out of the Friday lunch the community center provides. They recently added a dinner for families on Friday nights, a way to help feed children but also to explore healthy eating. For example, they recently had a “Night in Italy,” where they served Italian food and passed out a newsletter about using herbs in cooking.

Children also planted seeds that will sprout and, eventually, be planted in the community garden.

“The whole foundation of this was providing meals for the families, and wanting the children to have an ownership within the community. The garden kind of helped that, and also is helping the soup kitchen,” she said.

Reese-Walters said that anyone in the county may participate in the gardens, and those who harvest from it are encouraged to put some work into it as well. Children will have particular plots that are their responsibility, but everyone will help with and take from each other’s plots, she said.

They’ll also bring in local boys and girls from the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts to help with the gardens, to “give them the leadership skills that they will need to be productive in the community, and through that become mentors for the younger kids,” she said.

And they’ll teach families how to can or freeze the produce, to keep it good for at least six months.

The idea of the garden and the dinners is to teach and encourage healthy living. Choosing to buy fresh, good-for-you produce can be expensive, but teaching people how to plant a garden allows them to make those healthy choices for fewer dollars.

“Let’s go back to the grass roots, let’s go back to what our great-grandparents did. Then from there we’re going to educate people about their health,” she said.

Joining the effort are the Boy Scouts of America, Indiana Regional Medical Center, Penn State Co-op Extension of Indiana County, Sheriff Robert Fyock, the IUP women’s tennis team, Starbucks, Dr. Tom VanDyke and the United Way of Indiana County.

“We have a lot of people in the community that are excited,” she said.

And volunteers are needed for April 6. Work will begin at 6 a.m. and continue through 3 p.m. preparing the land for the gardens. Starbucks is bringing coffee, she said.

To volunteer, call the center at (724) 463-0674.

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