The Dayton Metropolitan area has been called a food desert, a region with limited access to affordable fresh produce and groceries. In a place where fresh foods are in short supply, it can be especially difficult for the people we serve to find quality fruits and vegetables. Thanks to our new partnership with the University of Dayton (UD) and The Ohio State University Extension (OSUE), that’s all starting to change.
This summer we created a new Shelter Farm at our Gettysburg Gateway Shelter for Men. Shelter guests can volunteer to help maintain the farm, while the University of Dayton and The Ohio State University Extension provide their educational and agricultural expertise.
Suzanne Mills-Wasniak, Extension Educator Agriculture and Natural Resources Montgomery County at The Ohio State University Extension, explains OSUE’s role in supporting this innovative project.
Suzanne Mills-Wasniak: “Our job is basically to make sure green things keep coming up from the ground. We contribute our agricultural research to guide the project, help educate the community, and to ensure the best production possible. We’re working with soil that hasn’t been in production for a very long time, but we’re taking every measure to help this new farm thrive. We are using proven technology and best management practices to achieve maximum production.”
Although getting the new farm started was challenging, the plot is certainly thriving. The first harvest yielded about 30 pounds of produce, and already the farm’s impressive assortment of over 1,000 plants has grown to yield over 200 pounds in it’s latest harvest. All of that fresh produce goes directly to feeding those served by St. Vincent de Paul Dayton.
The benefits go far beyond nutritional value as well. The farm is part of the Behavioral Activation Research Project in Homeless Shelters, a special collaboration between St. Vincent de Paul Dayton and the University of Dayton which has been ongoing since 2012.
Dr. Roger Reeb, Professor of Psychology at UD and licensed clinical psychologist, explains how the farm helps to enrich the lives of those we serve by creating an environment of opportunity.
Dr. Reeb: “What’s really special about this farm is that it crosses all three core areas of our Behavioral Activation project, enhancing: self-sufficiency, coping, and the shelter social environment. In brief, it’s a strategy that increases productive behaviors by bringing a person into contact with opportunities that are empowering and reinforcing and thereby improving mood, adaptive thinking and behavior, and quality of life.”
Dr. Reeb’s collaboration with St. Vincent de Paul Dayton and The Ohio State University Extension in establishing the farm was one of the activities that he worked on during the final year of his term as the Roesch Endowed Chair in the Social Sciences at UD, supported with data analysis by Dr. Greg Elvers (UD).
Under the direction of Dr. Andrew Londo, Professor and Assistant Director Agriculture and Natural Resources at OSUE, Suzanne Mills-Wasniak, and other Extension Educators and Program Specialists developed the necessary plans to establish the new farm.
Josh Alpert, Shelter Manager for the Gettysburg Gateway Shelter for Men, describes the change he’s seen in shelter guests.
Josh Alpert: “You can tell that the guests who volunteer in the farm really feel a strong sense of pride and accomplishment. Pulling weeds, harvesting, tending to the plants, seeing something that you worked so hard at grow can really mean a lot.”
“I’ve never planted anything before,” one guest remarked. “It feels real good to be out here in the farm, raising up something good for us to eat.”
The farm also provides opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students to help make a difference, and Dr. Reeb’s research has illustrated civic development in students who assist with the project.
Katey Gibbins, a clinical psychology Graduate Student at UD working under Dr. Reeb’s supervision, is completing her M.A. thesis by examining the potential therapeutic applications of the farm.
Katey Gibbins: “Research has shown that gardening can do a lot to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, and can even work to reduce some mental health symptomology. Part of that comes from the physical components, getting out into that sunny garden space and staying active. However, it’s also really empowering in a psychological sense. Setting your mind on goals, working with your hands to see something through to the end, collaborating with other gardeners—these volunteers are building important life skills.”
The experiential component of the project is designed to help shelter guests develop life enriching skills that go beyond the farm. In fact, some of the farm volunteers have already earned letters of recommendation through this project.
The Gettysburg Shelter Farm will continue to provide fresh produce for guests at both the Women’s and Men’s shelters throughout this growing season and future seasons as well.