Feds Spend $389,319 for Low-income Youth to Plant 'Faith-based Gardens'

By Elizabeth Harrington | March 28, 2013 | 12:22pm EDT

(AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded nearly $400,000 for low-income youth to build “faith-based gardens” with their local churches to “encourage healthy behaviors” and address issues of “social injustice.”

Oregon State University has received two grants totaling $389,319 for the project that will run until Aug. 31, 2013, and is entitled, “Producing for the Future: A Collaboration Between Low-Income Youth, Congregations.”

“The overarching goal of this project is to bring together low-income youth transitioning to adulthood, members of faith-based communities, and university researchers,” the grant’s description reads.

“The project seeks to take advantage of existing faith-based garden space and Interfaith outreach collaborations to provide opportunities for vulnerable youth,” it states.  Under the program, young people aged 16 to 22 will be partnered with adult mentors from faith-based organizations to plant, harvest and market gardens.

The grant states that the project has “public health relevance.”

“By targeting low-income youth aged 16-22, this project will provide additional scaffolding to support a highly vulnerable population as they begin the transition to adulthood,” it states.  “Supportive adult mentors and opportunities for community engagement, microenterprise development, and project evaluation and outreach will foster a sense of purpose and increase youth knowledge and job skills.”

“Additionally, the construction of community gardens will increase access to healthy, locally grown foods and opportunities for vigorous physical activity for youth and mentors,” the grant states.

It also says it will be beneficial for the adult mentors, who can engage in “faith-in-action” activities.

“To facilitate marketing of produce and encourage healthy behaviors, youth and mentors will work with Extension Educators, health outreach programs, and/or Master Gardeners to learn about the nutritional benefits and uses of the produce grown in the youth gardens,” it states.

Oregon State first received a $213,274 grant in 2010 from the NIH’s National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities.  The school received an additional $176,045 in 2011, totaling $389,319.

The project is being led by Leslie Richards, an assistant professor at the College Of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University.

At the Oregon State website is a page that further describes the community garden work, and quotes Dr. Richards as follows: “We know that years around the transition to adulthood can be fraught with uncertainty, fear, and lack of direction. Low-income youth are particularly affected as they navigate life and consider the future.”

The website states, "Responding to this vulnerable population, Leslie and colleagues in the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences at OSU secured a grant from the National Institutes of Health to offer a unique project that brings together vulnerable youth, members of faith-based communities, and university researchers.  The project is currently seeking volunteers"

(AP Photo)

In addition, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill has received $402,142 between 2010 and 2011 to use churches to encourage rural black youth to take an interest in farming.

The project, entitled “Faith, Farming, the Future: A Church-based Program Addressing Health Disparities,” aimed to develop five “church-based intervention teams” to assess the food system.

“Rural Black youth face a future with high rates of chronic disease compounded by limited access to prevention programs and services,” stated the grant.  “As in urban areas, the underlying socio-economic environment of poverty and disempowerment perpetuate health disparities in rural settings, yet the opportunities for employment are few. Ironically, children of farmers who grew up eating homegrown produce often leave their rural homes for urban jobs in fast food restaurants or low-wage, high-risk meat processing plants.”

“Getting youth involved in farming is viewed as a way to build a strong work ethic, promote physical and cognitive development, and as a protective factor to keep children from drug and gang involvement,” it said.

Inquiries to Professor Richards and the NIH were not returned by publication of this story.

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