The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB) recently released a story about Shaun Francis, Extension horticulture specialist for UAPB. Francis is currently conducting a sustainable food systems project. He cites a senior center in Eudora, Arkansas as an example of the impact made through the university’s Extension horticulture outreach efforts. The project has helped install a garden at the senior center.

“The Eudora Senior Citizens Center is not a live-in center, rather it is a place where local seniors come by bus to interact, play card games and dominoes or knit,” Francis said. “After we helped the administrators install a garden, the seniors started eating fresh produce they might have otherwise not had access to – cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs and spices, and collard greens, for example.”

The university’s horticulture outreach work strives to bring nutritious food to communities in food deserts, areas in which people have limited access to affordable and nutritious foods, especially fresh vegetables and fruits. Some of the people living in these mostly low-income communities must walk more than a mile to get to the nearest supermarket.

“We at UAPB try to partner with organizations who already have or want to set up an urban garden,” he said. “We assist with setting up the garden and then provide technical assistance as needed.”

UAPB added that they provide support to eight community gardens in central and southern Arkansas, which are managed by organizations including churches, community centers, and retirement homes.

Francis has recently been working with administrators of St. John Alexander Tower, a living facility for low-income senior citizens in Pine Bluff, to establish a garden.

“The administrators see the opportunity to garden as a kind of horticulture therapy for their senior residents, who are able to manage the garden and help with the harvest,” he said. “Most of the harvested produce is going to be used for cooking classes at the center led by the UAPB Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed). Thanks to the program, the residents learn how to prepare easy and nutritious recipes using fresh produce.”

UAPB mentioned that the Barraque Street Missionary Baptist Church in Pine Bluff is another example of an organization that has recently sought the assistance of UAPB in setting up a community garden.

The Barraque Street Missionary Baptist Church in Pine Bluff is an example of an organization that has recently sought the assistance of UAPB in setting up a community garden.

“The members of the church are responsible for the garden’s maintenance,” Francis said. “They plan to share produce among members of the community and will also host cooking classes. Lately, they have been harvesting cucumbers and squash.”

According to the article, other recent collaborations have included a group of women in Little Rock who want to grow sweet potatoes, as well as a woman growing peas, greens, and sweet potatoes that she distributes to neighbors. He has also started meeting with a group of pastors who are planning to create a garden to distribute food to locals in need of fresh produce.