A group of J.T. Reddick students with the Tift County Learning Center after-school program visited the University of Georgia's Black Shank Farm Tuesday afternoon to stake tomatoes. The students are involved in the "Plant a Row for the Hungry" program, which is directed by Unessee Hargett, an agriculture resource coordinator in the plant pathology department at the Coastal Plain Experiment Station.
Hargett has been directing the program for about eight to 10 years. He said it started out with Tift County schools and then was offered to Lowndes County schools as well. He used to get his seeds from the business Seminis, which was located in Tifton. Hargett said they were very supportive of the program.
PAR is a national program which, according to a brochure, was launched in 1995 by the Garden Writers Association. It's a people-helping-people program that encourages gardeners to grow a little extra and donate the produce to local soup kitchens and food pantries serving the homeless and hungry in their local communities.
PAR's mission is to provide an avenue for individuals, corporations and more than 84 million gardening households in the United States to help America's most vulnerable citizens and the food agencies serving them.
Hargett said the program exposes kids who would not otherwise be exposed to agriculture and also helps to deter hunger in a small way. He said the students in the local program will be harvesting onions and sweet potatoes next week. He noted they will complete their winter crops — carrots, red potatoes, cabbage and collards. Their spring crops are squash, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, sweet corn and a few watermelons.
Leta Bennett, site coordinator, and teachers Julie Gunn, Jasmine McMillian, Meg Matthews and Joyce Mullis, who are with the Tift County Learning Center after-school program, were also with their students Tuesday afternoon. Bennett said they offer the program after school and during the summer as well. She said the students really enjoy participating in PAR.
"Mr. Hargett is such a role model for these kids," she said, adding he makes learning fun.
The group of students will receive a pledge and Green Thumb Award certificate for their involvement in the PAR program. The pledge reads: “I (name), pledge to one day plant a garden of my own. The harvest will be shared with my family and friends with an extra row planted in my garden to share with local shelters, food banks and soup kitchens.”
At the bottom of the pledge, it states the following: “If all gardeners planted just one more row of vegetables and donated the surplus to the needy, we could help eradicate hunger in this country. Gardeners can make a difference one row at a time.”
The Green Thumb Award certificate is in recognition of the students' hard work and dedication to the program.
To find out more about PAR, visit www.gardenwriters.org.
To contact reporter Latasha Ford, call 382-4321.