Living in poverty and being food insecure makes it very difficult for a family to provide nutritious foods on a regular basis. Fresh fruits and vegetables are oftentimes cost prohibitive, particularly for people relying on SNAP (food stamps) benefits. More than 17,704 Martin County residents are living at or below the poverty line. With that in mind, House of Hope established nutrition gardens in low income communities which are maintained by House of Hope’s fulltime agriculture coordinator. Currently, four nutrition gardens regularly engage children through after-school programs. The agriculture coordinator provides nutrition and garden education activities weekly throughout the school year which includes garden planting, maintenance and harvesting of produce.In 2017, a year-long fundraising effort was launched to provide revenue for the construction of an Agricultural and Vocational Production Farm that would provide large quantities of fresh produce for House of Hope Client Choice pantries. In late July, House of Hope broke ground on the Agricultural and Vocational Production Farm located in Palm City. The site has been generously provided to House of Hope by the Dawson family, owners of the adjacent Palm City Farms Produce & Market.
Currently, there is a small greenhouse and a number of above-ground beds producing a variety of vegetables and herbs. A large greenhouse is now under construction, and at full operating capacity up to 4,000 pounds of fresh produce will be harvested monthly and distributed to House of Hope clients, local soup kitchens, and economically challenged communities. Not only will the farm provide an abundance of healthful fresh fruits and vegetables, it will also offer individuals the opportunity to obtain agricultural job skills and gainful local employment through House of Hope’s vocational training program. No other non-profit organizations in Martin County have made the provision of healthy food options and nutritional education a priority through their food pantry distribution and client program services.
The focus of the Nutrition Gardens and the Agricultural Vocational Production Farm is to increase community awareness of the health benefits of good nutrition, increase client consumption of healthy fruits and vegetables, and provide knowledge about the basics of gardening, while helping to reduce Martin County’s high rate of diabetes, childhood and adult obesity, and other chronic illnesses.
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