The fourth largest county in the Commonwealth is also a food oasis.
A food oasis is an area where residents experience food insecurity and lack of access to food.
The Virginia Cooperative Extension and Health Harvest Community Garden are working together to provide fruits and vegetables for residents in Halifax County.
“The majority of the population in Halifax County lives in a food desert, including many young children, families and senior citizens,” Maria Traynham, chair of the Healthy Harvest Community Garden and an assistant with Extension’s Family Nutrition Program, said. “The garden is bringing the entire community together toward this mission, and we’re seeing the difference it’s having on our community. Access to healthy food and the ability to afford fresh fruits and vegetables are real challenges that ultimately affect the quality of life and their well-being.”
The partnership will provide families with food, but also free family nutrition courses for youth and adults and lend consultation regarding vegetable production and land management. Master Gardener volunteers use the garden to provide educational classes for the public on a smattering of garden-related topics.
Healthy Harvest Community was born from a collaboration between individual volunteers and organizations in 2017 with the help of Sentara Health and the Virginia State Office of Rural Health.
The garden is now 10,000-square-feet and served 269 adults, 308 seniors and 265 youth in the area last year through a community-organized distribution model. The Extension’s Family Nutrition Program assistants, Master Gardeners, members of the community and local churches got 5,773 pounds of produce in the hands of community members who needed it.
“Having these community partners help with the distribution increases the reach and effectiveness of the garden,” Bill McCaleb, a program assistant and Master Gardener coordinator with Extension as well as the vice chair of the garden, said. “Because of their help, combined with that of donors, we are able to have the garden itself grow this year.”
A $10,000 grant from Farm Credit of the Virginias and additional support will make another 10,000 square feet of garden and a distribution center possible this year. In 2022, community partners, including Sentara, Hitachi Energy, Abbott Farm Suppliers, Town of Halifax, Town of South Boston, Virginia State Office of Rural Health, Microsoft, the Halifax Farmers Market and the South Farmers Market, donated more than $57,000 to the garden. High school students intern at the garden each year, and earn a $600 scholarship for college expenses after they work 85 hours. Grants from Sentara, Virginia State Office of Rural Health, the Town of South Boston and the Town of Halifax fund the scholarship opportunities.