A fresh garden will soon cultivate the senses with the help of vigorous volunteers. Those volunteering will snap on work suspenders and begin sowing seeds of charity within a few weeks. The seeds will be laid at Saint Francis Vegetable Gardens’s newest dirt beds located at The Elks Lodge on Coteau Road. The garden will begin to sprout more education, wellness, and generous donations.
“Between all of these gardens we’ll bring in about 9,000 to 12,000 pounds of produce per year to food banks. This garden will be about 3,000 pounds extra that is included in the 9,000 to 12,000 pounds,” Amanda Gibson, facilitator of Live Healthy Houma, stated.
The Saint Francis Vegetable Garden is a non-profit organization that plants community gardens dug and trenched by local community members. It is led by enlisted volunteers who wear gardening gloves on specific workdays. Seeds of support are sown and grown. The produce is then donated to Terrebonne Churches United Food Bank and the Good Samaritan Food Bank of Thibodaux.
“It was about seven years ago that some people from Thibodaux got together and realized there was a need, that the foodbanks weren’t receiving any fresh produce,” stated Cheryl Skinner, Saint Francis Garden Coordinator. “Everything was canned or frozen, nothing was fresh. So, they decided to form a non-profit and start a community garden, which is exactly what they did. They kept it going for so long, then I got brought on, Amanda got brought on, and we want to expand it out into different locations.”
The chief garden was planted in Thibodaux located on Rienzi Drive, behind the Warren J. Harang Jr. Municipal Auditorium. The half-acre is community funded and sponsored along with the other nursery plots. Plants bloom at Southdown Plantation, Harmon Park, H.L. Bourgeois High School, Thibodaux Elementary School, and now, Elks Lodge.
Gibson is the facilitator of Live Healthy Houma and she is also an Assistant Extension Agent (LSU AgCenter). Wellness and nutrition are implanted in her soul. Thus, she collaborates with Saint Francis Vegetable Garden as a class coordinator.
“We’re giving all this produce to food banks, but I wanted to make it more sustainable by ‘this is actually how you grow at home’. We’re just trying to make it more sustainable and preach agriculture basically,” Gibson stated.
She designed the “Greaux at Home” program where she teaches families how to grow, cook, and preserve produce that was planted in their backyard. Families who attend the class will be given a “Good2Greaux” gardening kit that entails tools to help you hoe a successful home garden. “Greauxing at Home” is funded by Healthy Blue.
“Our whole point is to educate about agriculture and also to produce food and security,” Gibson ended.
Skinner, an Advanced Louisiana Master Gardener, is also zealous about educating agriculture. Her love for gardening has rooted her in the coordinating position for the St. Francis Vegetable Garden organization.
“Through the master gardener organization, I was always interested in gardening. When they decided to start the garden at Southdown Plantation, they needed someone to run it, so I volunteered of course, and that’s how it started. I was a volunteer and now I’m a member of the staff. It morphed where I’m over everything now,” Skinner explained.
“I love being outside and if I can do gardening and if I can make a living doing it, why not?,” she added.
Not only is Skinner managing an organization, but she is also helping morph families into fervent gardeners. She has a passion to plow and seed minds with traditional growing techniques.
“Yes, we’re still going to do the gardens. We’re going to grow everything like this and donate it to the food banks, but we also want to push education. I want to teach people how to grow their own food,” Skinner said.
Skinner is the needed rain to grow the non-profit institution. Her hands are always in the dirt helping to enrich plants to be donated and people to sprout gardening knowledge.
“I’m very hands on. I try to be there at all of them, but if I can’t, I have somebody that I sub out and she’ll go and take care of everything for me in my absence,” Skinner said.
“Cheryl does so much and she’s so great for the community…everyone needs a Cheryl. She works so well with the community,” Gibson added with a smile.
The organization wants to uproot and enrich children with gardening abilities. “I love teaching people how to grow. For example, at the schools the kids have no idea how a carrot grows. Once you see the excitement in their eyes from it, you don’t want to stop,” Skinner added.
Gibson and Skinner want to create a “Little House on the Prairie” environment. Volunteers and their children will travel to a fading age of dirty hands, bonding, classic knowledge, and reaped rewards.
“We have volunteers that are so committed to coming to workdays, they have now created their own huge gardens at their houses. Their kids can basically teach other community members how to garden, so it’s been wonderful,” Gibson stated. “Our vision is to get schools out here for field days. We want to teach them and get their hands in the dirt and expose them to that.”
The two women want to revive and polish the rusted tools of gardening. They want to show others how to water their life with nutrition and possible farming endeavors.
“Gardening is a lost art that we want to bring back. Not only is it providing you nutritious foods and exposing your kids to nutritious foods which they’re more likely to eat, but it’s also a great physical activity. So, it’s healthy in all kinds of different ways,” Gibson stated with importance.
“Farming is a dying breed. We’re trying to get more younger people interested in it, because the farmers aren’t getting any younger around here. The young ones see the land and they’re like I can sell that, why kill myself farming it?” Skinner added.
St. Francis Vegetable Garden not only plants philanthropy, but it is also a bedded foundation for regional agriculture, nutrition, and education.
“St. Francis Vegetable Garden really supports local agriculture, so we push our local farmer’s markets here. We will always advertise, because a big part of our mission too is supporting local agriculture, because that’s important,” Gibson stated.
The organization will be coordinating the Upbeet Wellness Expo and Family Fun Day to help maintain the bed of nutrition. It will include free activities for children, fun run, garden scavenger hunt, plant sale, raffle, and more. The event will be held at the Thibodaux garden located on Rienzi Drive on March 28th from 1pm to 5pm.
“We want to raise funds, but also raise awareness that we’re not just agriculture, but we’re also supporting other wellness activities in the area,” Gibson said.
Seedlings of health are being spread by Saint Francis Vegetable Garden. “We’re just trying to make it a healthy community. If you start it at home, chances are it will carry over into everything else,” Skinner stated.
To find out how to volunteer, donate, and more visit: https://www.stfrancisvegetablegarden.org/
Main Sponsor – South Louisiana Seed Company
Corporate Sponsor – John Deere
The Helio Foundation
Address of newest garden:
1228 Coteau Road
Houma, LA 70364