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Jefferson County groups build community garden

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MICHELLE HORST,The Journal

RANSON, W.Va. (AP) — Some say it takes a village to raise a child. In the case of Jefferson County Community Ministries, it has taken a community to plant a garden.

Faced with the realization that many low-income families who come into the food pantry at JCCM felt as though they could not afford to provide healthy meals to their families, volunteer Dee Taylor and food pantry coordinator Jan Dougherty set out to find a way to incorporate more healthy options to their clients.

"Jan and I are very thankful for the goods donated, but the vast majority of is pre-packaged, canned food, which is very high in sodium and preservatives," Taylor said. "So, we are trying to find a way to create a more balanced meal for people."

The solution to the problem was threefold, and the end result led many individuals and businesses in the community together in helping to provide the solution.

First, in order to produce the fresh fruits and vegetables, there has been a community garden planted along West Third Avenue in Ranson. Volunteer and retired ecologist Bill Gregg was out one recent morning caring for the plants.

"We have tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, string beans, basil and parsley," Gregg said. "We haven't done all of the summer plants like squash and cucumbers, but those will drape over the sides of the raised beds. It's amazing the partnerships that have happened for this."

Those partnerships for the garden project range from the leasing of the three-quarter-of-an-acre garden lot, just four blocks from JCCM, by the city of Ranson to the Ranson branch of BB&T donating volunteer time and funding to build the raised garden beds, which are made from cinder blocks.

And to put it all together, students from the U.S. Forest Service Harpers Ferry Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center built the raised beds.

The second problem was what to do with the food once it's available.

In order to instruct clients on what to do with healthy options and how to make those valuable nutrients last, Karin Kozlowski, food outreach instructor for the West Virginia University Extension Service, designed a series of four cooking classes for food pantry clients.

Held just over the railroad track in Charles Town, Asbury United Methodist Church provided a kitchen space for the program, while Jefferson Medical Center also sponsored the classes, bringing more elements of the community into play.

"The people who come to class get the ingredients to take back home," Taylor said.

The last element is menu planning, which Kozlowski said is the most intricate part of saving money.

"We developed a 30-day menu plan based on a very low-income budget to demonstrate that you can eat healthy on a low income, but it takes some planning to do that," Taylor said. "(Kozlowski) is going to do a session on meal planning and we have recipes to share with people."

Kozlowski recently was teaching the second of her four courses, which covered the topic of whole grains. Other topics in the course are fruits and vegetables and using inexpensive protein sources such as eggs and beans.

For information on how to help the healthy living initiatives of JCCM, call 304-724-3186 or email info(at)jccm.us.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.