Jefferson Co. program promotes healthy living

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 22, 2010

FAYETTE — These days, going to the grocery store is a whole new experience for 10-year-old Matthew Williams.

As a member of the GI101 — it stands for Growing Into The Beginning of Knowledge — Youth Business Leadership Curriculum program, Williams has spent this summer learning how to grow produce for market.

And that has changed his entire perspective on food production, he said.

“When I go to stores, I think about how the vegetables got there — I know it is a long, hard process,” Williams said.

Along with the program’s other participants, Williams has toiled under the summer sun, growing and harvesting purple-hulled peas, lima beans, corn, cantaloupes, watermelons, bell peppers, squash, zucchini and other vegetables.

They’ve blanched, canned and preserved their products — making plum butter, plum jelly, squash relish, zucchini relish — and now the program is looking to start marketing the finished products through Alcorn Extension Service’s Farmer’s Market, GI101 founder Janell Edwards said.

The goal of the program is twofold, to teach business skills and healthy living, she said.

Jefferson County leads the state in per capita obesity, and so gardening seemed like a good way to fight that, Edwards said.

“We wanted to combat that in our area by instilling this (knowledge) in some of our local youth,” she said.

And the knowledge that the produce she is eating came from the sweat of her own brow makes it all the sweeter for Makyla Edwards, 9.

“I really enjoyed it, especially the watermelon,” she said.

The garden is all organic, and the group is working to get an organic certification through Alcorn State Univeristy, program director Rachel O’Mara said.

Because the garden is organic, that means no pesticides or herbicides are used.

That means the students have to spend a little extra time on their hands and knees.

“The hardest part is the weeding,” said Bleu Williams, 14. “Once you have completed all the weeding, you can see all that hard work and what you have done.”

The hard work involved has given Raymonnesha Edwards, 13, a new perspective on how past generations lived, she said.

“My grandpa would go out there by himself, and I don’t see how — it takes a lot of time and effort and patience,” she said.

Whestley Williams, 16, agreed.

“I learned it takes a lot more (to grow vegetables) than I previously thought,” he said.

GI101 co-founder Anthony Edwards said the program has received support from the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors, the circuit clerk, the sheriff’s office and the Fayette mayor’s office, as well as from Alcorn State University and Mississippi State University.

For more information about GI101, contact Anthony or Janell Edwards at 601-493-5958 or 601-493-5943.