BATON ROUGE – A few years ago, the mayor’s office started promoting healthy food options by putting fresh produce in corner stores located in food deserts. Some of that healthy food is grown right in Baton Rouge.
There are community gardens across the capital city, and a lot of people don’t know about them. The initiative is important, especially in areas where access to food is scarce.
On Tuesday morning at the old Howell Park Golf Course, a man used a tiller to churn dirt and prepare it for seeds. Mitchell Provensal of Baton Roots and the Walls Project plays a huge part in the community farm on Winbourne Avenue.
“We have four acres here, we grow food and do programming educating people on how to grow food,” Provensal said.
Right now, the garden has greens including collard greens, broccoli, herbs, and root vegetables. They’re getting ready to plant potatoes and peas.
Provensal says the idea is to educate people about healthy food and how to cook it, provide healthy options and connect the community. The community garden is open to anyone who needs it and signs tell people where to harvest. Some of the harvest is collected and dropped off at Hope Ministries or sold to community partners like Top Box Foods.
“Access to fresh food and food security is always an issue so our idea is to grow the food right where people need it,” Provensal said.
The garden is located in the 70805 zip code, which is the most consolidated zip code in the Baton Rouge area and there isn’t a lot of food access. It’s also an area with a high number of people who don’t have access to a car.
Executive Director of HealthyBR Jared Hymowitz says the idea is to create an ecosystem, supporting people to live healthier lives. About 100 organizations are working together to make it happen and bring healthier options to people who don’t have easy access to them.
“We’re teaching people how to cook the food, teaching people how to shop for food and teaching them how they can get access to that food,” Hymowitz said.
HealthyBR partners with businesses and non-profits through the Geaux Get Healthy Initiative to provide education and access to fresh food within food deserts in East Baton Rouge Parish.
The organization’s biggest challenge now is awareness. They’re working to get the word out and promote long-term change. The program has invested in community gardens at high schools where students learn the ropes through a program called Hustle and Grow. HealthyBR also partners with Top Box Foods, which offers online ordering and at-home deliveries of fresh food. Top Box Foods accepts EBT and SNAP benefits. Through the Geaux Get Healthy Initiative, Top Box has established fresh food stands at several corner stores in the parish.
“What we know is that one organization can’t do it alone,” Hymowitz said. “You can’t rely on government to change everything, but you can work together. There is a whole team supporting the Walls Project and Baton Roots Farm and how we create this ecosystem so it doesn’t just go away one, two or three years later—that it’s here 20, 30, 40 years from now.”
In the last three years, Baton Roots has grown over 33,000 pounds of food, but the efforts go far beyond the community gardens. HealthyBR has invested more than $500,000 into the farm to help start and grow the program.
Later this week, 2 On Your Side will visit an Our Lady of the Lake clinic involved with a food scarcity program and a corner store that is selling some of the community garden items.