In a community garden on Columbia Drive in south DeKalb County, residents are growing greens, collards, kale, cabbage, strawberries, potatoes, carrots, squash, cucumbers and radish.
“Just about most of the vegetables you can buy in the store, somebody’s trying to grow it,” said John Brooks.
Approximately 30 people work the 53 raised boxes in the garden that was started three years ago. Another three boxes are elevated 3.5 feet above the ground to allow wheelchair users and those with back problems to garden more comfortably.
The gardeners are part of Healthy Belvedere, a program in its fifth year that promotes healthy eating, active living and environmental change.
“It’s a major interest of mine,” said Brooks, who, after the idea of a community garden was introduced at a Healthy Belvedere meeting, presented the proposal to leaders at Peace Lutheran Church in Decatur where the garden is located.
“I see it as an opportunity for us to do something to give back to the community,” Brooks said.
Approximately 20 percent of the garden is used to grow food for the community.
“We just simply give it away,” said Stefan Moday, a head gardener and marketing director for Healthy Belvedere. “We’re just trying to get food from the ground and into people.”
Once the food is harvestable, the gardeners plan to give food away on most Saturdays depending on the harvest.
“We want to pick it, wash it and give it away,” Moday said.
In addition to fresh, organic foods, the garden “provides a visible energy that people can see that shows community involvement,” Moday said.
“It’s kind of like a billboard for Healthy Belvedere,” Moday said. “It brings people into the Healthy Belvedere initiative. It’s been a great way for me to meet people that I wouldn’t have met.”
Gardening fulfills Healthy Belvedere’s goal to promote active living because it provides “good physical exercise and good mental exercise,” Moday said.
Healthy Belvedere has a youth program, called Garden for All, which is a six-week session during which students gather for two hours on Saturdays to plant vegetables, learn about composting, water conservation and insects.
“We try to make a connection with the food they eat,” said Maria Rossoto, director of Healthy Belvedere. “We teach them that it doesn’t just come out of a package.”
Healthy Belvedere, which is in the process of transitioning into a nonprofit organization next year, is one of eight programs around the country set up by Kaiser Permanente with a five-year mission of improving the health of the community and becoming a self-sustaining entity.
“We have a tremendous health disparity” in south DeKalb, Rossoto said. “In one out of two households, there was someone with a preventable chronic disease.”
“The ultimate goal is to reduce the health disparity,” Rossoto said.
In addition to the community garden, Healthy Belvedere sponsors walking clubs, monthly neighborhood walks, fitness classes and progress parties which offer peer support. At fitness demonstrations, participants have learned about various fitness programs such chi walking and kickboxing.
“People will more likely stick with a fitness program that they like,” Rossoto said.