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Health Outcomes might improve with community gardens and co-ops

On a recent night, a homeless man in Oklahoma City declared himself “too ugly to prostitute” -- but he accepted contributions tossed into his guitar case on N. 23rd Street. State and local officials have been investigating ways to promote community gardens and other methods to improve nutrition for the needy.  The City Sentinel staff photo.
Picture taken by the City Sentinel

Staff Report

The headlines and news reports continue to detail the challenges facing needy Oklahomans, including the homeless. Last week, members of the House Agriculture Committee met for an interim study to look at the proliferation of community vegetable gardens and other tactics aiming to improve access to nutritious food for more of our people.

The bipartisan interim study, led by state Rep. Dale DeWitt, R-Braman, listened to a variety of analysts, including Pam Patty, a registered dietician with Integris, who brought to the panel a basket of fresh fruits and organically-grown vegetables. State Rep. Richard Morrisette, D-Oklahoma City, had requested the study. He said, “The idea is to set aside vacant property for use by the community for the benefit of the community as garden space, and, through sweat equity, raise nutritious food and improve our health outcomes.”

Morrissette continued, “I’m not focused so much on farmer’s markets with this effort but rather to see a neighborhood band together to produce its own fruits and vegetables for its own consumption. And, eggs are an inexpensive source of protein. Many of our low income folks can no longer afford meat and kids need protein. We are a state of food deserts and lots of open land, seems like a natural solution to grow gardens and eggs.”

Other presenters included “master gardener” from Mustang’s Kiwanis Community Garden – Bob Wilson. He spoke of the rewards when citizens link to such a charitable civic minded organization to invest in producing a healthful outcome for the community. Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel described an important effort by the department to utilize city property previously in need of mowing and weeding, now converted to garden space with the use of inmate labor. Inmates tend both summer and fall gardens with this past season yielding a bumper crop of potatoes and other vegetables to be used to feed those incarcerated.

Other presenters included the National Council of State Legislators’ Douglas Shinkle, Senior Policy Specialist, who brought examples of legislation from other states where land use liability issues have been dealt with to protect not just land owners but the community making the investment of labor and equipment to establish such gardens. California and Tennessee have both been proactive on the issue.

Other presenters at the interim study included the Dept. of Agriculture’s Bryan Buchwald, Section Director, and OSU Extension’s Hort & Ag Educator, Ray Ridlen, along with Oklahoma City planner Russell Claus.

Joey Abbo, founder of the NEEDS Foundation, believes that fresh fruits and vegetables can be donated to charity and his organization is ready to pick up the overflow from community garden and egg co-ops for redistribution to church pantries and homeless shelters. Participants promised to continue to work on the issue. Morrissette expressed his hopes, based on observation: “Success of these gardens is part of raising our health outcomes and lowering health insurance premiums. Citizens investing their labor in such an endeavor have skin in the game and suddenly the neighborhood seems to belong to everyone that participates.” concluded Morrissette.

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