HER Eats

The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - Contents - Story & pho­tog­ra­phy by Grace Brown

From the roots up: Dif­fer­ence Mak­ers ad­vo­cates for health­ier life­style

The dis­con­nect be­tween the foods peo­ple eat and where they ac­tu­ally come from is very real and very fright­en­ing, ac­cord­ing to Re­nee West­fall, vice pres­i­dent of the Dif­fer­ence Mak­ers of Hot Springs. Chil­dren and adults are of­ten left in the dark con­cern­ing how the food on their plate comes into fruition.

Ac­cord­ing to DMHS, much of the food eaten to­day is pro­cessed and in pack­age form. It is loaded with sug­ars and preser­va­tives that have been proven to be detri­men­tal to a healthy life­style.

DMHS is work­ing to help peo­ple eat health­ier foods by in­vest­ing in and re­vi­tal­iz­ing a com­mu­nity gar­den lo­cated on two blocks span­ning be­tween Palm Street and Beech Street.

“It was an area that had kind of been aban­doned for the most part, be­cause there was not any ac­tive group work­ing there at the time,” said Wil­lie Wade Jr., DMHS founder.

In May, the Hot Springs Parks and Trails Department do­nated the plot of land to DMHS to use for their Com­mu­nity Gar­den of Hope. Over the course of 30 days, the non­profit, in part­ner­ship with Teen Chal­lenge and mem­bers of the com­mu­nity, had weeded, trimmed and re­planted much of the com­mu­nity gar­den.

“We were de­lighted with the op­por­tu­nity. We saw the value in it be­cause if it could be brought up to a level where the com­mu­nity could ben­e­fit from it, then it would serve its pur­pose,” said Wade. Al­though the ren­o­va­tions for the gar­den are far from fin­ished, it still bears the fruits of their la­bor. De­spite com­ing into the prepa­ra­tion and plant­ing a lit­tle late in

Dif­fer­ence Mak­ers ad­vo­cates for health­ier life­style

the sea­son and not hav­ing ac­cess to the best equip­ment, there have been three har­vests.

The gar­den it­self is com­prised of two dis­tinct ar­eas. One side fea­tures a se­ries of rows, fruit trees and gar­den beds, while the other is await­ing de­vel­op­ment. There are three fruit trees lo­cated through­out the gar­den, and vol­un­teers said they love the fact they can reach up and grab an ap­ple or pear while tend­ing to the beds. Each of the beds fea­tures a dif­fer­ent fruit of vegetable. Cur­rently there are spots for wa­ter­mel­ons, squash, to­ma­toes, egg­plants and a va­ri­ety of other nu­tri­tious fruits and veg­eta­bles. All of the seeds were do­nated by Parker's Coun­try Cor­ner, and the city of Hot Springs pro­vides wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion ser­vices free of charge. “One of the things that made us re­ally ex­cited is com­ing out of our health sym­po­sium and look­ing at the re­al­ity that this is a food desert. … There are no sources of fresh pro­duce (in the im­me­di­ate area),” said West­fall. “No­body is pay­ing any­thing for the gar­den, and peo­ple are free to take what­ever they like,” she said. By re­vi­tal­iz­ing the gar­den they hope to en­cour­age a sense of com­mu­nity, pride and own­er­ship of this par­tic­u­lar area of town. Even­tu­ally, they plan to make the gar­den ac­ces­si­ble to those with dis­abil­i­ties by fea­tur­ing raised gar­den beds for eas­ier ac­cess. Their goal is to of­fer an equal dose of en­rich­ment and ed­u­ca­tion to chil­dren in the com­mu­nity. The gar­den will be set up so that class­rooms and small groups can come visit and get their hands dirty. Work­ing in the gar­den is also a great way to get chil­dren ac­tive and out in the fresh air. They plan to show those in­volved with the gar­den the process food goes through to get to the din­ner plate — ev­ery­thing from plant­ing seeds to cook­ing a nu­tri­tional, gar­den fresh meal. In the process, they hope to pro­mote a healthy and ac­tive life­style.

As for the un­de­vel­oped sec­tion of the gar­den, they have plans to in­stall an out­door am­phithe­ater where the com­mu­nity can at­tend events cen­tered around the arts. They plan on invit­ing lo­cal artists and mu­si­cians to the gar­den to share their love of the arts with chil­dren in the area. How­ever, they are still in the plan­ning stages.

“Ev­ery­one knows that the more you are ex­posed to the arts, the bet­ter you learn,” said Es­ther Dixon, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of DMHS. “And we're not only re­vi­tal­iz­ing the gar­den, but the neigh­bor­hood it­self,” she said. The group plans to par­tic­i­pate in na­tional Make a Dif­fer­ence Day on Oct. 28 by tack­ling a cleanup of the en­tire block sur­round­ing the gar­den. They will be out in full force all that day, and then end the day in the com­mu­nity gar­den with fel­low­ship and a bit of fun. They are en­cour­ag­ing the pub­lic to come and pitch in.

Al­though they still have a lot of work ahead, the group's mem­bers say they are proud of what they have al­ready ac­com­plished, and look for­ward to a bright fu­ture in the com­mu­nity.

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Brenda Bran­den­burg & Min­nie Flint

Dif­fer­ence mak­ers es­ther Dixon, Wil­lie Wade Jr., re­nee West­fall, terry easter Front row: min­nie Flint, Lu­cille poland and brenda bran­den­burg

Terry Easter

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