P.E.A.C.E. Garden fights child food insecurity in Macon, GA

The P.E.A.C.E. Garden invites Macon-Bibb youth to help with garden maintenance, learn about agriculture and strengthen a healthy food outlet that addresses the community’s food insecurity.

The P.E.A.C.E. Garden invites Macon-Bibb youth to help with garden maintenance, learn about agriculture and strengthen a healthy food outlet that addresses the community’s food insecurity.

\ Courtesy of Carl Myers

Community activist Carl Myers’ P.E.A.C.E. Garden started off as blighted property until he envisioned it as another answer to Macon-Bibb’s food insecurity problem.

The garden, located at 1934 Forsyth St., is walking distance from the Booker T. Washington Community Center and L.H. Williams Elementary School. Myers said he chose the location because it aligns with his goals of community involvement and youth education.

“Farming and agriculture is usually foreign to youth. They usually don’t see that process of how food is being grown,” Myers said. “I thought it was imperative to teach them that, and also address the food scarcity and food deserts in Macon.”

Myers said P.E.A.C.E. is an acronym for multiple meanings, including Positive Energy Always Causes Elevation Garden. It also stands for Please Educate A Child Everyday Garden, and Proper Education Always Corrects Error Garden.

According to Feeding America’s 2021 statewide data, Macon-Bibb County has a child food insecurity rate of 24%, which is nearly double the state of Georgia’s rate of 13.3%. The rate corresponds to the county’s child food insecure population of 9,120.

One in five children in Georgia are unsure where their next meal will come from, according to United Way of Central Georgia.

But row by row and crop by crop, Myers’ garden offers some assurance by teaching children about seed germination and healthy trades.

Around 20 young people volunteered to help clean up the lot at 1934 Forsyth St. The land has been turned into a community garden.
Around 20 young people volunteered to help clean up the lot at 1934 Forsyth St. The land has been turned into a community garden. Carl Myers Special to The Telegraph

While in prison, Myers read Supreme Understanding’s “How to Hustle and Win: A Survival Guide for the Ghetto.” A chapter on healthy food solutions for underprivileged communities inspired him to revive blighted land in Macon-Bibb and transform it into a productive community garden.

“We wanted to implement growing healthy foods in neighborhoods that suffer from poverty and have no grocery stores that are close,” he said.

Condus Shuman, executive director of the Bibb County School District Nutrition Department, said many students face barriers that prevent access to adequate and affordable food.

“This limited access is due to several factors, including households without vehicles, lack of adequate public transportation, and many families living more than one-half mile from supermarkets with health food options,” Shuman said in an email.

June O’Neal, executive director of The Mentors Project, said she is seeing an increase of food insecurity and homelessness among the children in the county.

“Food and rent costs are escalating, and people are having a hard time trying to provide for themselves and their children,” she said. “Wages are not going up, but the price of everything is going up.”

Myers said he wants his community P.E.A.C.E Garden to emphasize that healthy options can be grown with inexpensive, everyday products.

“The vision for this garden is not your traditional garden. We want to make it urbanized so people get motivated to start growing in their own homes,” he said.

O’Neal said the project manages a food bank that is open 24 hours a day, in which they have recently distributed over 20 pounds of fruits and vegetables provided by The Society of St. Andrew.

The Bibb County School District also combats student hunger through its participation in the USDA Community Eligibility Provision program, which Shuman said offers free school meals to all enrolled students.

Four BCSD schools — Heard Elementary, Ingram-Pye Elementary, Southfield Elementary and Ballard-Hudson — partner with Helping Hands Ending Hunger Inc., a non-profit that encourages students to rescue uneaten food from school cafeterias and package them for fellow classmates who are experiencing food insecurity to take home.

Even when school is out, Shuman said students have access to healthy meals through the district’s participation in the Georgia Department of Education Seamless Summer Option Summer Feeding Program.

“Many of our students depend on school meals as their main resource to meet their basic nutrition needs,” she said.

But an introduction to agricultural learning can provide more food resources for children, and then ultimately the community, Myers said.

Myers added that even though it isn’t harvesting season yet, he’s noticed the children’s joy over sprouting seeds, which has inspired some of them to start their own gardens at home to help their families.

With supply donations from organizations like Keeping Macon-Bibb Beautiful and Grow Macon, the P.E.A.C.E. garden is growing various foods like carrots, tomatoes, cabbage and collard greens.

The garden’s next clean-up day is March 30. Myers welcomes the community to help clean up the lot, build raised beds and continue fortifying a healthy food option for the area.

“Just being able to provide another outlet to where we can start doing things for the community and having the youth involved is just amazing,” he said. “It just brings people together.”

This story was originally published March 4, 2024, 10:50 AM.

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