Extending Education into Food Deserts

Extending Education into Food Deserts: Extension Goes Mobile with Vegetable Gardening

Lisa Hickey, University of Florida IFAS, Manatee County Extension Urban Horticulture Agent

Situation: When the Urban Horticulture Program noticed low attendance of four ethnicity groups at onsite workshops, a decision was made to increase program delivery to such communities. The Urban Horticulture Program responded to the Manatee County Health Department Survey that indicated several of the food desert neighborhoods wanted backyard gardens.

Methods: This health department needs assessment indicated underserved-community residents wanted one hour workshops on growing vegetables in their backyard. UF/IFAS Extension Manatee County Urban Horticulture Program with a team of Master Gardener (MG) volunteers converted a container gardening project into a mobile project called “Plant-a-Pail.” Three underserved communities were visited during three growing seasons.  Several training tools were utilized, namely, story board, large group discussion, hands-on demonstrations and peer-to-peer exchange of information groups. Residents learned how to garden in up-cycled buckets as well as the cultural practices of growing vegetables.

Results: Thirteen events were held over a five month period in three underserved communities. 238 mobile vegetable gardens were planted and carried home; 235 containers thrived and healthy vegetables were harvested.

Conclusion: A survey was utilized to determine successful quantities of harvest and problems encountered while growing vegetables. Attention was given to developing rapport and building trust with each community.  Personal interviews were also used. Additional food deserts have requested participation in 2017 events. This project enabled the agent to increase minority participation in horticulture outreach.

(Click photo to enlarge.)