Food programs blooming in Clarkston

This summer’s abundance of rain has been a blessing and a curse for the vegetation growing at the Clarkston Community Center’s (CCC) community garden.

Some of the edible landscape has flourished, while other parts suffer. Such is the reality of gardening and  the unpredictability of nature.

However CCC has elevated the growing of fruits, vegetables and flowers from just a hobby into one of several critical lifeline components providing families with food, cultivation skills and for some an income stream.

Janice Giddens, food security coordinator at the center, said the multifaceted program brings together the diverse cultures that exist in Clarkston. CCC offers after-school nutrition education, a food pantry, cooking demonstrations and 28 garden plots resplendent with tomatoes, dinosaur and Russian kale, collards, roselle (also known as sour leaf), peppers, sochin, corn, zephyr yellow squash and more.

“Seeing the beauty taking place here gives people a sense of community,” Giddens said. “It’s a great way to get people together.”

Those people coming together are Americans born and reared here and refugees from countries around the world who are establishing new lives in a new land.

CCC and Global Growers Network (GGN) are creating a local food hub that provides locally grown, nutritious, affordable food to communities in DeKalb County. The program is a component of CCC’s comprehensive Food Security Initiative. It offers access to healthy food in an area in which a large portion of the local and refugee populations live below the poverty level.

The Clarkston community, according to Giddens, is also considered to be a “food desert,” meaning there are few places where fresh food can be found.

Made possible by a $89,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the food hub program encompasses an expansion of the Clarkston Farmers Market from monthly to weekly; expands the reach of community supported agriculture that provides freshly harvested produce to subscribers and promotes fresh produce grown primarily by refugee farmers to be harvested, packaged and brought to markets, restaurants, the CCC Co-op and food bank. It also serves as a learning space where disadvantaged farmers (low-income, immigrant and/or women) receive training in food handling and share farming techniques and knowledge.

The Clarkston Farmers Market is now held every Sunday on the Clarkston Community Center activity field from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

“We take great pride in our partnerships with those organizations, like Global Growers Network, that share our mission to build and support community in every way possible,” said McKenzie Wren, executive director of CCC. “The importance and power of food brings people of all cultures and backgrounds together and opens avenues to understanding.”

Susan Pavlin, GGN director, agrees.

“Through Global Growers Network’s collaboration with Clarkston Community Center, international farmers are able to share the bounty of their agricultural talents with Clarkston and surrounding communities,” Pavlin said. “Together, we are ensuring that sustainable, healthy food may reach all, and that our local farmers have support and market demand to grow a wide variety of produce and cultural specialties.”

Local residents such as Shannon Dickey and Mary Smith have valued and supported CCC’s food programs for years.

Dickey has been volunteering at the Clarkston Community Center for seven years. The painter and musician maintains a vegetable garden of her own at her home and helps with the community garden.

Dickey said she’s spreading the word about local food and how important it is.

“I just love all the culture, learning about new culture,” Dickey said of the interaction that takes place at the center and in the garden.

She added that working in the Clarkston’s community garden has given her a great understanding of what’s eaten and grown in other cultures.

“In some countries they don’t eat the actual fruits, they use the leaves,” she said.“It’s always a learning kind of process.

Smith, who has lived in Clarkston for six years, has been volunteering at the center and in the city for some time.

Currently she picks up day-old bread from a grocery store and delivers it to CCC’s food pantry.

“My front yard is full of people who are hungry and needy,” Smith said. “I can’t feed one family but I can feed a part of several families. There is so much hunger just here. I don’t mean Atlanta—here, across the street from the community center. Right here.”

Smith said everyone should offer to reach out to help others through volunteering their time, making financial contributions or in some other way.

“We all need to do all we can for who we can,” she said. “Everybody can give something.”

Smith said at the center she sees how important working in the soil is for so many people.

“All these people all have their little gardening thing,” she said. “It’s amazing. These people have so little, but they manage to have their own garden.”

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