Charlie Herbert
Charlie Herbert, founder and coordinator of the Giles Community Garden, poses for a photo in front of the garden earlier this summer. (Photo – M. Wade/NRVCS)

Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth awards
three-year grant to Giles Community Garden

By Betty Herbert (with Mike Wade)

Giles Community Garden is proud to announce the formation of a Healthy Communities Action Team (HCAT). This team has received a three-year, nearly $90,000 grant from the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth (VFHY) based in Richmond, VA. The purpose of the grant is to help the fight against childhood obesity by developing community-based strategies that will increase access to fresh produce, while also promoting healthy life choices through interactive learning experiences and outdoor/physical activities.

Initial team members include: Charlie Herbert, Garden Manager; Jeff Dinger, Giles County Administration; Mike Wade, NRVCS; Stephanie Spencer, Giles Carilion Community Hospital; Kevin White, Giles County Public Schools; and Sherri Nipper-Williams, Giles Breakfast Lions Club.  The team has expanded to include Darlene Smith, Master Gardener; Christine Thomas, Registered Dietician with Carilion Clinic; and Gigi Robertson, Virginia Tech Cooperative Extension Service.

Begun as a partnership between Giles Breakfast Lions Club and Christ Episcopal Church in 2014, the garden is an effort to help feed and nourish the local neighborhood in Pearisburg.  Two major, early expansion partners were soon added.

In the winter of 2015, a Seed-to-Fork Program was begun with the NRCA Head Start Schools in Giles County. This program began in the schools and was carried forward with activities in the garden which included planting crops, moving small rocks working with child-sized garden tools and then harvesting some of the produce they had planted.

The summer of 2016 saw the addition of a summer program designed for the children associated with Family Preservation Services. These elementary/middle school children had a full garden experience including planting, harvesting, weeding, crop identification and taste testing

“Giles Community Garden has developed and nurtured a strong bond with children and their understanding of how tasty and healthy fresh food is when picked directly from the garden,” notes Garden Manager Charlie Herbert. “Because of the current issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic, we did not spend any time with children in the garden this summer but we hope this will change by the spring and summer of 2021.”

Herbert explains that this year’s garden focused on productivity and spreading the good news about gardening and the health benefits to body, mind and soul. He adds that the number of family units volunteering to work in the garden has actually increased compared to last year and there has been an increased volume of nearby residents who are accessing the fresh produce from the garden.

“I think both of these increases can be linked to the health crisis and the desire to learn to grow good food and the lack of free, nourishing food available to them,” Herbert says.

The first year grant cycle for this project began July 1 and runs through June 30, 2021. Work in the garden begins in January and February with planting seeds and tending to the greenhouse. Herbert adds that the first year of the grant will be focused on strategic planning and implementing the VFHY-approved workplan. New River Valley Community Services will serve as fiscal agent for the grant.

“We look forward to expanding our reach into other communities in Giles County through our partners with this grant,” adds Herbert. “The educational and nutritional opportunities of our HCAT are boundless.  This team is committed to bringing down the obesity rate for children in Giles County. In the process, we will help people learn the benefits to their overall health through organic gardening.”

About the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth

Established by the Virginia General Assembly in 1999, the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth (VFHY) empowers Virginia’s youth to make healthy choices by reducing and preventing youth tobacco use, substance use and childhood obesity. VFHY directly reaches about 50,000 children each year through classroom-based prevention programs in public schools, after-school programs, community centers, day cares and prevention programs across the state. VFHY’s award-winning marketing campaigns deliver prevention messaging to more than 500,000 children annually. For more information, visit www.vfhy.org.