To bring the joy of gardening to people of all ages, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service professionals recently began a series of 12-week programs at two San Antonio locations.
“We recently began the ‘Growing and Nourishing Healthy Communities’ gardening programs consisting of informal classroom instruction and hands-on gardening activities for different age groups,” said Angie Gutierrez, AgriLife Extension family and community agent, Bexar County “We started an adult program and a family program at the Family Service Neighborhood Place on the west side and a senior program at the Commander’s House Adult and Senior Center downtown.”
Gutierrez said additional Growing and Nourishing Healthy Communities programs are being planned for these and other locations throughout Bexar County in the future. For information on future programs go to https://bexar-tx.tamu.edu/.
A collaborative effort
“In these programs, AgriLife Extension family and community health professionals work with instructors from the agency’s Better Living for Texans program to teach participants about gardening and nutrition,” Gutierrez said. “We also get support from our agency horticulturist and our volunteer horticultural program, the Bexar County Master Gardeners, as well as our Master Wellness program volunteers and others.”
Gutierrez said the programs provide instruction on soil preparation and planting, fertilization, mulching and plant maintenance. They also provide participants the tools, materials and hands-on assistance needed to get real-world practice with their planting.
“Our seniors especially enjoy hands-on programs like the ones AgriLife Extension provides because they allow them to personally engage in fun activities and visit with their friends,” said Gloria De La Cruz-Sandoval, recreation supervisor for the Commander’s House center. “We have about 400 seniors per month visit the center, and their favorite programs are always the ones in which they can be personally engaged.”
For the hands-on gardening activities, AgriLife Extension provides the garden tools, soil, fertilizer, mulch and plants. Participants plant tomatoes, peppers, bell peppers, cucumbers and a variety of herbs.
“For the older people who come to this location, this AgriLife Extension program is an opportunity for them to get out of the house and stay active,” said Josh Inguanzo, director, Family Service Neighborhood Place. “For the families, it’s an opportunity to do something together in a safe environment and use what they learn about gardening and nutrition at home.”
Better Living for Texans instruction
About six weeks of the instruction for the program is provided through the Growing and Nourishing Healthy Communities curriculum of AgriLife Extension’s Better Living for Texans, or BLT, program.
BLT is a nutrition education program for adults and children who are Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP, participants who are eligible.
“The BLT program helps people make healthy meals, improve their physical fitness, save money at the grocery store, grow their own foods, and adopt better food safety habits,” said Natalie Ramos, Better Living for Texans agent, Bexar County. “We provide research and evidence-based nutrition, health and wellness knowledge so individuals, families and communities can make positive changes for healthier lives.”
During the six-session Growing and Nourishing Healthy Communities Garden Course, participants learn how to grow fruits and vegetables, start a community garden, select a good garden location, learn proper gardening techniques and plant maintenance and receive instruction on how to cook the produce they grow.
Maria Mancey, who participated in the initial program for seniors at the Commander’s House, said she was most excited that everything she was learning could be applied at home.
“During the program, I get to share stories and experiences with other people, and after the program I’m able to take what I’ve learned and use it in my own vegetable garden,” she said. “I’m a florist, so I love plants and gardening. I also eat a lot of salads and am sure to get plenty of fruits and vegetables in my diet, so this program is perfect for me.”
Ashley Hernandez, AgriLife Extension health and wellness educator for Bexar County involved in these gardening programs, said gardening has a variety of benefits.
“Vegetable gardening offers a lot, not only in providing nutrition but also in providing outdoor physical activity and social interaction,” she said. “With the COVID-19 pandemic having so many people lose contact with one another, these programs have also provided a terrific opportunity to reconnect while doing something fun and educational.”
Gutierrez said the culmination of the 12-week program will include the participants harvesting and cooking the vegetables and herbs they have grown.
“The program is long enough to where the participants can actually see, touch and taste the results of their labor,” she said. “At the end of the program, we will demonstrate how to harvest, prepare and cook the produce and provide participants with some recipes they can prepare at home.”