OLEAN — A group of Olean residents are enjoying the “fruits of their labor” this summer as they work in two community gardens sponsored by Healthy Families Allegany-Cattaraugus and Rural Revitalization Corporation.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an increase in the self-reliance of communities to provide for their own food needs. In collaboration, Healthy Families Allegany-Cattaraugus (HFAC) and Rural Revitalization Corporation (RRC) have made it possible for people living in two Olean neighborhoods to raise produce to supplement nutritious food for their families.

Program Supervisor Jasmine Hall said the Healthy Families community garden, located on Reed Street, has 16 raised garden beds with picnic tables for staff to meet with families. She said Rural Revitalization is also involved with a community garden on Green Street.

As program supervisor at HFAC and board president at RRC, Hall said these dual roles allowed her to bring the two agencies together to support the common goal of educating, providing a resource and giving back to the community.

Hall said the garden started as a simple idea to give families they work with something to do during the COVID shutdown. She said Healthy Families originally started by providing families with seeds, soil and small disposable planters as an activity, along with an age appropriate book families could read to their children about gardening.

Hall said the overall goal and idea of the garden is to teach families about gardening, where their food comes from, and ways to make the entire process a fun one. Because HFAC is a home visiting program in Cattaraugus and Allegany counties, a curriculum was developed for staff to use with families that includes activities and information to be utilized both in the home or during a home visit.

“From there, the Healthy Families garden was an idea that was tossed around between myself and April Ramadhan, executive director of Rural Revitalization,” she said. “After a few brainstorming sessions, we had a location and days planned to start the building process.”

Hall said they did two days of initial work, beginning May 31, that included volunteers building the raised beds and filling them with mixed soil, then planting on June 4. Volunteers were from the Rural Revitalization board and staff of Healthy Families, as well as some members from the community.

“The garden locations were cleaned out, stone was laid, and new fencing was installed all around with a gate on the front. Two picnic tables, a children’s picnic table and a bench were brought in,” she said. “In the back of the garden is a large water tank that we were very thankful and grateful that the City of Olean Fire Department came to fill for us.”

Community members Hannah Taylor and Cordell Hill live just a few doors down from the Reed Street garden. Taylor said she was very pleased to be invited to participate in the community garden. Thanks to the Healthy Families program, she had the opportunity to plant some vegetables that she might not have otherwise been able to do.

“I had a blast meeting new people and coming together to forget about all the craziness in the world,” she said. “Thank you so much for inviting me and giving me the opportunity to have a peaceful, little getaway right by my house. I can’t wait to see how my ‘veggie’ box comes along.”

Taylor said participants tend and water the vegetables, then get free produce from whatever is grown. She said they are growing herbs and vegetables including basil, oregano, parsley, chives, lettuce, red onions, peppers, green beans, tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers and watermelon.

“It’s honestly a lot of fun,” she added. “My first harvest of chives was used for dip.”

Hall said she reached out to Taylor and asked if she would like to be involved in the garden when she showed an interest in a shared Facebook post.

“It was so nice to have Hannah be a part of the process,” Hall said. “She has helped with planting, watering and overall care of the garden, and we are so appreciative of her for that.”

Healthy Families Allegany-Cattaraugus is a home visiting program offered to residents who are pregnant or have recently had a baby. Hall said participants have to enroll before the child reaches three months old, but can stay with the program until their child turns five or enters kindergarten. She said the free, voluntary program focuses on child development and helping make sure children are meeting their developmental milestones.

“The Healthy Families program is not related to Cornell Cooperative Extension but, for many years, we have had one of their staff attend our groups to teach healthy cooking, as well as show nutritional snacks that parents can make with their children,” she said.

Rural Revitalization Corporation is an agency that provides a series of programs dealing with housing. Hall said this includes partnering with local city governments to help meet requirements of the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), a home improvement program, as well as housing and financial counseling.

Healthy Families Allegany-Cattaraugus is located at 234 North Union St. To find out more about the program, visit online at parenteducationprogram.org or call program director Dawn Tuttle at 372-5987.

(Contact reporter Deb Everts at salpressdeb@gmail.com.)

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