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The Big Garden grows healthy food, helps kids and communities grow

Posted at 9:14 PM, Apr 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-15 12:13:54-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — An Omaha nonprofit called The Big Garden is doing its part in helping people grow their own healthy foods and is a food source for many communities.

Their goal is to grow healthy food, healthy kids, and healthy communities.

“Everything that we grow in here in the greenhouses is either given to one of the gardens or goes out in the plant sale, or we plant it here. Ultimately, everything that is grown here is donated to Together Inc., which is the largest food pantry in the state,” says Executive Director Nathan Morgan.

The nonprofit builds gardens in different parts of town and has a network of more than 150 gardens in the Omaha metro and semi-rural communities throughout Nebraska, Iowa, and Kansas.

At each garden, they partner with schools, other organizations, or churches and teach children and their families how to grow, cook, and preserve their own food. They also focus on tackling food insecurity in Omaha and all the systemic challenges that come with that.

“Last year we ended up growing about 15,000 pounds of food at different locations around town that we’ve partnered with and all of that was donated throughout the year,” says Morgan. “Especially with COVID-19, the demand was extremely high in 2020.”

Before COVID-19, statistics showed one in five kids went hungry in the U.S. If the kids were Black or Latino, one in three kids experienced food insecurity, according to The Big Garden.

Morgan says they teach families and kids that the cycle can be broken.

“We try and empower kids to recognize that they can grow some of their own food, that they can live healthier lives because of that, and that’ll hopefully address some of those foundation issues," Morgan says.

To reach a larger demographic during the pandemic, The Big Garden recently partnered with the Latino Center of the Midlands to have interns lead their Siembra Raices program to provide healthy food access to Latinos and all immigrants in minority communities.

“Oftentimes the clients at food pantries are immigrants or refugees or people who may miss the produce that they grew up with that isn't necessarily available to them through the food bank. What we do is all through the winter, we run our greenhouse. In it, we grew cilantro, we were growing bok choy and all sorts of other Asian greens. That way when there's a produce box that comes from the food bank, we can layer on top of that some fresh produce that's culturally appropriate for the folks that we're working with,” adds Morgan.

The Big Garden also takes their outdoor gardening inside the classroom.

“In normal years, we would teach over 1,000 kids a week during the summer, an eight-week course on how to plant, how to maintain, how to harvest, and then cook with fresh produce,” says Morgan. “Of course that all transferred last year to online due to COVID."

The team shared fun and educational videos on a variety of topics online, like on pumpkins, seed saving, and herbs. They also provide recipes to make it a rich experience.

Ultimately, Morgan says their work is bringing nutritional value to low-income families.

“We've learned that all the professional literature shows that if kids who are engaged in gardening programs, are more likely to eat more produce and they have fewer of the associated health problems kids in poverty have as they get older,” says Morgan. “Our evaluations show the same thing - that kids that participate in our program are eating more fresh produce, eating more often, and just knowing where their food comes from. They're invested in growing this and therefore also eating it.”

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