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Two Palm Beach County non-profits create on-site gardening workshops that educate food insecure children

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Yvonne Bertucci zum Tobel
/
WLRN
The farm to kids workshop at the Max M. Fisher Boys and Girls Club in Riviera Beach

According to the Feeding Florida network of food banks, over 3.1 million people in the state lack access to healthy food —800,000 of which are children. As food prices continue to rise, fighting food insecurity is becoming a challenge. Two non-profits are using gardening programs to educate underprivileged children in Palm Beach County.

At the Max M. Fisher Boys & Girls Club in Riviera Beach, kids are getting their hands dirty. They’re surrounded by raised gardening beds filled with cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots and lettuce. Today, they’re planting heat-tolerant basil and lettuce in this farming workshop.

Margaret Duriez is the founder of Fresh Rx and this Farm to Kids program. She’s partnered with the Boys & Girls Club of Palm Beach County and believes that onsite gardens are important. “It’s so these kids can understand the link between themselves and the environment and between nutrition and health. We really hope that getting them at a young age will help them make lifelong healthy choices,” Duriez said.

10-year-old Melissa loves tomatoes. “I like to grow tomatoes, they’re my favorite vegetable,” she said. Ten-year-old Teddy is standing next to her. Today is his first day at the workshop. “It’s pretty fun. We’re going to plant lettuce today. And I just know that some day, we’re going to get good at this,” he said.

Seven-year-old Zoe is learning about worms. “They give the plants nutrients and the nutrients that they need,” she said.

Duriez, a West Palm Beach native, said that while food banks help with food insecurity, they tend to be filled with shelf-stable items full of preservatives. “While those items may be addressing the hunger issue, they're not addressing our health crisis in the same way that access to fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables would be,” she said.

Since the majority of items in food banks are donated, there’s no way of telling what they’ll get — a truckful of chips or green beans. Jamie Kendall, the CEO of the Palm Beach County Food Bank, said that when the food bank purchases produce, they buy USDA grade No. 2’s from local farmers. “It’s a cucumber that might be perfectly great to eat, but it’s not in the shape that a store wants to see a cucumber in, so they’re the number two’s, the less desirable,” Kendall said.

Meghan Fiveash from Feeding Florida said fresh food costs are greatly reduced for SNAP recipients when buying local produce, if they use Fresh Access Bucks. “Our statewide program is kind of twofold. To obviously increase food access and healthy food access for individuals who are receiving SNAP benefits but also to support local Florida farmers,” Fiveash said.

Feeding Florida’s Fresh Access Bucks doubles the purchasing power of Florida-grown produce for those who receive SNAP, formerly known as food stamps. Recipients can use the bucks at participating farmers' markets, farm stands, CSA programs and mobile markets across the state.

Kendall said that the increasing price of gas, food and rent is bringing more people to food banks. “It’s a lot of working-class people. For example, two parents who are working minimum wage jobs. You throw a few kids into the mix, and now their rent’s going up — they’re one paycheck away from not being able to put food on the table.”

Eric Roby from the Boys & Girls Club believes education is vital. “There is this idea from a lot of parents that they can’t afford to eat healthy. And we want to dispel that myth.”

Seven-year-old Zoe took some tomato plants home a few weeks ago. “I took them home and then I planted them and they’re at home growing and they actually grew all three of them. I just water them and keep them in the sunlight.”

Fresh Rx and the Boys & Girls Club of Palm Beach County offer four additional on-site farm-to-kids gardening programs at the Delray, Wellington, Belle Glade and West Palm Beach Boys & Girls Club locations.

Yvonne Bertucci zum Tobel discovered public radio during a road trip in 1994 and has been a fan ever since. She has experience writing and producing television news. As a freelance reporter for WLRN, she hopes to actively pursue her passion for truth in journalism, sharpen her writing skills and develop her storytelling techniques.