BY GABI IUS
THE SUNBELT AG EXPO offers many unique aspects, the backyardgardening section is much different from the conventional Expoattractions. The garden is maintained year-round by an army of volunteers so visitors can enjoy a great learning experience in October. Many think that large-scale agriculture is the only focus of theExpo, but that’s just not the case. According to GreenPal, about 25%of American households have a backyard garden. To best serve itsvisitors, the Expo, along with its partners, has created a space thatallows people to better understand the impact a backyard gardencan have. After all, who wouldn’t want fresh produce straight fromthe garden?
Because of people’s interest in home gardens, the Sunbelt AgExpo started the backyard garden experience in 2008. This lets individuals see how they can improve their personal gardens and thepossible additions they could make. It’s not enough just to see it,though; that’s why people are encouraged to get involved. Like thefield demonstrations, there are garden demonstrations and seminars available for visitors to take part in. From pest prevention tipsto new raised bed ideas, innovation is everywhere for those looking to develop their home garden. There is always room to grow sothat’s why the Expo looks to include those who produce crops forpersonal use, not just production.
Over time, this gardening experience has become an integralpart of the Expo. Through partnerships and the volunteer program,the garden has been able to give back to those in need. Since thepermanent exhibit space was established in 2015, opportunitieshave continued to blossom within the backyard garden.
“This space is all about teaching people to grow food for themselves,” states Fredando Jackson, or “Farmer Fredo” as many havecome to know him. As executive director of the non-profit, FlintRiver Fresh, Jackson has turned this demonstration plot into amust-see for anyone interested in agriculture. This space serves asa tool to educate people on personal food production and sustainable agriculture.
There are many ways for people to become a part of the backyard garden that the Sunbelt Ag Expo and Flint River Fresh createdtogether. One opportunity includes the local Colquitt County HighSchool FFA chapter. They have been able to gain hands-on experience in the industry by growing and harvesting the crops from thegarden. With their involvement, they have participated in makingtheir community a better place through significant donations offresh produce to the Colquitt County Food Bank. This shows the hugeimpact one backyard garden can have in the fight against hunger.
The opportunities don’t stop there. As the project has expanded,extra hands have been needed. Volunteers from all over the community have come together to plant, weed, harvest and maintainthe backyard garden. You don’t have to have a green thumb to helpeither. All are welcome to take part in the garden workdays that areput on each month. A brief training video is available for volunteersto watch before the hands-on experience. Farm biosecurity, safety,and how to prepare for work in the garden are a few of the topics covered. This information is used to ensure everyone is on thesame page and ready to work once they get there. The training isdesigned to educate volunteers on the basics that every gardenershould be familiar with, whether they’re just starting out or a seasoned veteran.
The garden features many of the crops that are conventionallyfound in a backyard garden. This includes collards, cabbage, broccoli, kale, Irish potatoes, lettuce, green beans, southern peas, sweetcorn, sweet potatoes, summer squash, watermelons, tomatoes,peppers, and citrus. This way people get hands-on experience withthe crops they’re most likely to grow. Additionally, these are alsothe types of fresh food that food banks tend to lack. This providesthose in need with the items necessary for a balanced diet fromproduce grown within the community.
The partnership between Flint River Fresh and the Sunbelt AgExpo has enabled a great learning resource as well as an avenue togive back. Without it, visitors wouldn’t be able to experience themany benefits of a backyard garden. Take the time this fall to learnmore about how you can give back through gardening whetherthat’s through participating in the Expo’s backyard or cultivatingyour very own green space.
Partnership with education:Learning to live healthy