- Author: Nancy R. Zumkeller
First harvest is always an exciting time when gardening, but this first harvest proved to be extra special for a group of women and their children at Fresno Rescue Mission's Rescue the Children residential treatment program. RTC is a protected, secure environment that provides emergency and long-term services to at-risk, abused, homeless, or previously incarcerated women or women with children. UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program Fresno has been providing nutrition education to Rescue the Children for over five years and now garden education and support has been added to that collaboration. A conversation in a nutrition education class about the importance of fruits and vegetables led to the residents' expressing interest in gardening and asking how to grow your own vegetables. The UC CalFresh Garden Team leapt into action to collaborate with RTC residents to plan and implement a sustainable garden. This 12-18 month residential program for women and women with children continually receives new residents, but they all have the opportunity to learn and work in the garden and enjoy the fruits of their labor.
The women's prior experience with gardening was varied. Some shared fond memories of working in a garden with their grandparents or parents when they were children. Most had minimal experience but all were eager and willing to learn and work. UC CalFresh provided support through garden and nutrition education, seeds, seedlings and various garden supplies and tools. UC Master Gardener's were invited to collaborate. They were introduced to the women of RTC and provided weekly garden education classes ranging in topics from basic gardening, irrigation, maintenance and composting. A Master Gardener even donated several gardening books to the RTC library for the residents to refer to for guidance and research including a copy of the California Master Gardener Handbook, which is considered the definitive guide to best practices and advice for gardeners throughout the West.
The facility had ample space for a garden, but there was still lots of work to do such as clearing weeds, un-stacking the raised garden beds that had been empty for a long time, and understanding how to work the existing drip irrigation system that had not been utilized to its full capabilities. Finally, in September 2017 the garden was planted. Radishes, spinach, potatoes, carrots, and squash were some of the vegetables that were planted. Cilantro and rosemary was also planted in the garden beds. Although some beds produced more than others, all the residents enjoyed sharing this experience with each other as well as with their children. “I loved coming out here in the evening with my son to pull weeds and check on the garden. It's so peaceful out here,” stated one of the residents. Another resident compared growing a garden to nurturing a child. She stated you care for and love your child by tending to their needs the same way you would for the plants in the garden.
Learning all about drip irrigation from a Master Gardener
Planted and labeled!
The farm to table movement has definitely become a part of Rescue the Children's resident's daily lives. In addition to the garden, a composting area has been maintained with the community kitchen scraps. Learning about composting has been practical and useful. Many women stated they had never realized how kitchen scraps could be beneficial to a garden. The first harvest in November provided many delicious vegetables that the kitchen staff used in preparation for the Thanksgiving meal. Everything harvested from the garden is used in the community kitchen for all to enjoy. This hands-on learning experience has impacted not only over 35 adult residents of RTC but over 20 school-aged children as well. The hard work and rewards of the garden are providing a valuable experience for everyone. The lessons on nutrition and gardening will be remembered long after the women have graduated from RTC. They have acquired the necessary skills and knowledge to maintain a healthy lifestyle for themselves and their families.
Composting bins ready for kitchen scraps!/span>