Wallace State feeding folks and helping folks feed themselves

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Kristi Barnett introduces visitors to Wallace State’s raised bed garden and rainwater recycling system (in background). (W.C. Mann for The Cullman Tribune)

HANCEVILLE, Ala. – The staff at Wallace State Community College (WSCC) is taking the threats of hunger and food insecurity seriously with two programs: one that helps feed students and one that offers them and folks in the wider community an opportunity to help feed themselves.

Kristi Barnett, a grant specialist with the WSCC Future Foundation, puts in extra hours with the school’s Planting Seeds Community Garden project and promotes an on-campus food pantry for students struggling to get enough to eat on their limited budgets.  The Future Foundation works to help students overcome obstacles to success in education, and hearing concerns from students about difficulties in accessing healthy foods led the organization to make feeding students one of its causes.

Barnett explained, “Food insecurity is a very big deal for college students.  College students work hard to come to class. They often don’t have the money for gas, for food, for their monthly bills.  We support however we can.”

Community garden

According to the WSCC website, “The Planting Seeds Community Garden, created in partnership with the College’s Horticulture/Sustainable Agriculture department and the Small Farm Training program, provides a place for WSCC students, staff, and area residents to garden in small, raised beds.  Garden programming includes monthly community education events featuring garden-related topics and other heritage skills.”

Barnett shared, “We have two food initiatives for our students, and one is our community garden.  We have 16 raised beds. Students and community members are welcome to come garden if they would like, (and) take those vegetables.  We provide the beds, the seeds, the seedlings, and teach them how to do it.”

WSCC has brought AmeriCorps VISTAs Garrett Johnson and Heather McAfee on board to oversee the garden full-time.

The school recently installed in-ground water lines to the garden and into the raised beds to permit easy irrigation, but the garden team is also working on a rainwater recycling system to make the garden as self-sufficient as possible.  Multiple water tanks set on a rise just above the garden and fitted with catchment and funnel devices, designed by McAfee, can catch and store more than 1,000 gallons of water.

Said Barnett, “It really is miraculous, because you’d be amazed how much water these beds require.  During the hot part of the day, we’re watering twice a day, and to not have to take that from our available water is really nice.  Things grown better in rainwater!”

Members of the community are welcome to use an available raised bed for a small fee which can even be paid in community service.  Folks can also come to the school, work in the garden and get training, tips and pointers from the staff and school agriculture faculty that can help them develop the knowledge and skills they need to grow successful gardens at their own homes.

Lions’ Kitchen

For students who have an immediate need for food assistance, the Foundation created Lions’ Kitchen, an on-campus food pantry.

Barnett said, “Our food pantry is done through donations.  St. John’s in Cullman did an offering of over $5,000. The Rotaract Club donated $1,000.  That pantry’s located on the third floor of the Bailey Building, open to any student who needs assistance.

“If a student here at the college needs assistance, they just go to the third floor and ask to be pointed to the pantry.  We have bags and shelves full of food.”

Get involved!

If you or your organization would like to make a donation to Lions’ Kitchen, contact Coordinator of Student Engagement Jon Stephenson at jon.stephenson@wallacestate.edu or 256-352-8209.  

For more information or to take part in the Planting Seeds Community Garden, contact Kristi Barnett at kristi.barnett@wallacestate.edu or 256-352-8231.

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W.C. Mann

craig@cullmantribune.com