Published date: September 23, 2021
"Surveys conducted in the hospital's emergency department and studies by the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance have both indicated nearly 1-in-4 children in Arkansas are food insecure. The Feeding America national hunger-relief organization estimates this number could be 1-in-3 children in our state since the COVID-19 pandemic started," said Scott Allen, Director of Community Engagement at Arkansas Children's.
The Arkansas Children's Hospital (ACH) Community Engagement Department offers classroom presentations to students across the state on wellness topics such as Healthy Habits and Fitness & Nutrition. The department recently forged a relationship with Helping Hand, a local food pantry, to provide non-perishable foods to hospital patient families that indicated food security concerns in a hospital survey.
In 2015, after discussion with hospital leadership and strong support from long-time physicians such as Dr. Patrick Casey, ACH Chief Operating Officer David Berry approved a small garden site on an empty lot located on the edge of the hospital's property. The plan was to beautify the site, provide a space for community engagement, offer learning opportunities for all ages and help decrease food insecurity in the area.
At the same time, the ACH Research Institute was increasing its involvement in garden and nutrition work around the state to lower childhood obesity. The idea of a garden immediately interested the local neighborhood association, and the National Park Service at nearby Little Rock Central High National Historic Site also showed interest.
With several small funding sources from ACH Community Engagement and the Research Institute, the program bought tools, a storage shed and a few seeds and plants. The National Park Service built ten raised beds, and the garden was born.
While volunteers are wonderful, the garden would not have worked without the constant care of a dedicated, paid worker. A GardenCorps (AmeriCorps) member served as the primary hands-on garden employee for the first three years of the garden's life. This inexpensive yet reliable arrangement was important to the initial success of the garden, and in-ground beds were added in the second year. The expansion has continued ever since.
By 2018, the garden project was a success, and it was time to officially name it. With input from the neighborhood, the name Centennial Garden was chosen. Why Centennial? On March 23, 1877, Commissioners of Pulaski County Chancery Court platted the land just west of the original city of Little Rock as the new Centennial Addition, named in honor of the recent centennial celebration of our nation's independence. For many years afterward, citizens often referred to this area as the "West End" or the "Centennial Neighborhoods," which is still true today. Our on-campus garden is honored to now carry on the legacy of the historic Centennial name.
The hospital also hired an employee in 2018. The garden manager works 20 hours each week for 11 months of the year. Crops grown include tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, onions, garlic, radishes, beans, peas, spinach, potatoes, corn, okra, eggplant, zucchini, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, squash, peppers, strawberries, blackberries and watermelon.
From the very beginning, ACH was committed to donating the fresh produce grown in the garden directly to the Helping Hand food pantry, located just a few blocks away in the neighborhood. They harvested approximately 298 lbs. of produce in the garden's first year and expanded to more than 3,000 lbs. the following year. Since 2015 the garden has produced an impressive 17,579 lbs. of fresh fruits and vegetables for the community.
Many new friendships have sprouted at Centennial Garden, and experience is shared between generations. A LOT of fresh, healthy food is harvested, benefiting families served by Helping Hand, patient families at ACH, and residents in the surrounding neighborhood. To build a community of healthy children, Arkansas Children's will continue to focus on creating meaningful improvements to their health and wellness.