OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — In South Omaha, some gardens are producing more than just food - they’re growing opportunities for the community’s youth.
A new program called Siembra Nebraska, which in Spanish, Siembra means to plant, is an agricultural project that focuses on community health by growing fresh fruits and vegetables for neighborhood families, as well as provides job opportunities for students.
The program was started back in June in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which highlighted food insecurity, especially in North and South Omaha.
“This project is so important, and even more so for the Hispanic community because South Omaha has been hit the hardest for COVID-19. They have the greatest amount of cases and also, just in that population, health is sometimes something that is undermined,” says Juan Cangas, Project Coordinator for the project.
A group of students cater to two gardens in Omaha - one at Norris Middle School and the other near 32nd and Y Streets. They’re two of the over 50 gardening sites The Big Garden oversees in the metro. The interns take care of everything - from building the beds, to planting the seeds, watering the plants, and picking the fruits and vegetables. They grow foods such as tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, radishes, kale, sweet potatoes, squash, herbs, corn, watermelons, and other plants.
Several organizations collaborated to put the 20-week program in place. The Latino of the Midlands handles the internship component, Kids Can Community Center and Southside Redevelopment Corporation provide the land for the gardens, the Kroc Center provides their facility and open spaces, such as the kitchen to be used for cooking demonstrations, and The Big Garden teaches the students about agriculture and gardening.
“The majority of the interns that are participating in this program are from South Omaha, so it’s their community that they’re serving. Half of them are in high school, so they’re either going to Bryan High School or South High School. And then the other half are either starting college or are in college right now,” says Cangas.
Intern Aeh Khaing, who will begin college at UNO this fall, says helping provide food for her own community while getting paid makes this program the perfect summer job.
“I think now, especially because of the pandemic, it’s very important to increase the access to healthy foods, especially with families having lower income,” says Khaing. “I think it's a purposeful job. Instead of going swimming, I’m here growing goods and it makes me and my family happy.”
Cangas adds, “Some of the students are in an Urban agricultural program at Bryan High School and so they’re interested in this type of work. Some of them have never done gardening before. Some of the students have only done dome gardening at home with their parents, but so far, they’ve all really seemed to enjoy this experience of being outside and working together with other people.”
So far, 168,000 pounds of soil have been put in, and organizers plan to host a food bank with the food they harvested in mid September.