Other groups and individuals are working at alleviating food insecurity by looking at the issue in a different light.
Druid City Garden Project (DCGP) is one such organization. The main idea behind DCGP is to break the cycle by educating youth living in food deserts. The project works uses seed and plant donations to teach students valuable math and science lessons with hands-on activities. Rashmi Grace, the co-founder of the project with her husband, Andy, works closely with teachers and the school board to match the curriculum set by the state.
Students have the opportunity to be a part of a complete process: they plant, grow, harvest, and manage all of the produce that comes from the garden. After harvesting the produce, the students sell it themselves at a food stand on school grounds. Some of the produce is also used for tastings in class so the students get to taste what they grow. According to Lindsay Turner, executive director of DCGP, the hands-on experience has a stronger impact on the students than learning in a classroom.
“Students do everything themselves—from growing the produce to all of the accounting and marketing it takes to run the food stand—it teaches them how to be self-sufficient, but also about the food they eat and what nutrients they need to be getting,” Turner said.
The organization broke ground in 2010 at University Place Elementary School, and has since grown to two other schools and the local juvenile detention facility.
“Our program at the juvenile detention center is a little different,” Turner said. “The garden is absolutely beautiful—we tend to try and use the garden as a reward.”
Students at the center who have behaved well and worked hard are rewarded with leadership positions, such as being in charge of all watering for the week, Turner said. Produce grown at the correction facility is placed directly into the kitchen, cooked, and eaten by kids at the location.
While great work is done at the sites, DCGP realizes that alleviating food insecurity and breaking the cyclical nature of food deserts requires a multi-pronged approach.
“We have a dual focus of access and education about healthy foods,” Turner said. “If we educate the children, and de facto, the parents of the children, we can work to help the future of Tuscaloosa.
A big part of DCGP’s mission, according to Turner, is to teach families that a lot of food can be grown even in a small, urban area. At the farm stand, produce costs are subsidized in order fresh foods affordable for the parents that are shopping the stand.
“We want to connect folks with their roots, and for Alabama, our roots, no pun intended, grow deep in the very soil we stand on,” Turner said.
DCGP spawned from a film project recently finished by the Graces, co-founders of the organization. Andy and Rashmi ate only locally-produced, Alabama food for a year, and the resulting documentary discusses the gap between generations of knowledge of the land, nutrient-rich food options, and why food insecurity is found at such a high degree in west Alabama.