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