A new health program focused on Black Austinites connects seniors and kids through gardening

A new health program focused on Black Austinites connects seniors and kids through gardening

Austin (KXAN) — In gardens around Austin, something special is happening.  African American senior citizens are being paired up with kids and meet each week to garden together.  The people involved with the program say it’s been tremendously successful and has forged new friendships and skillsets for community members young and old.

Though this program looks nothing like a doctor’s office or a prescription, it is entirely health focused. It is also supported by UT Austin’s medical school.

The program is part of Dell Medical School’s Community Driven Initiatives which takes in suggestions proposed by and for residents of Austin and Central Texas to improve health in their communities. Part of the goal behind Community Driven Initiatives is addressing challenges that come from unfair economic policies and discrimination which have lead to inequality in health. These projects are chosen from all the community suggestions using a number of criteria, including helping the most underserved populations in the community and addressing displacement and gentrification.

Most of the gardens in this program are in east Austin. East Austin is an area full of rich history for Austin’s African American community, who were forced there by segregationist policies in the 1920s. Today, gentrification is pushing many of those families out and East Austin has become a “hot real estate market” seeing the largest increases in property value in all of Travis County.

Researchers at UT Austin have been documenting and calculating displacement in East Austin and its impacts on the African American community. The researchers believe these neighborhoods are most vulnerable because they had historically lower housing costs as a result of 1928 policies which segregated Black Austinites to the eastern part of the city. Those low housing costs have recently been reversed as east Austin becomes more socially and financially desirable for others with more money, the researchers noted. They added that communities of color are among the most at risk of being displaced.

The Inter-generational Gardening initiative was submitted by the Alliance for African American Health in Central Texas.  There are three types of participants in this program: young people, adult lead gardeners and senior citizens. Together, they plant and maintain backyard gardens in Austin. The young people involved in this program take financial literacy and food justice classes and are also given a stipend to help them plan out gardening work. Everyone involved can take part in the classes and gets to benefit from the shared gardening skills and the locally-grown food. 

Young people and adult leads of multiple ethnicities participate.  The organizers of this program realized that so many African American families have been displaced in Austin that they couldn’t fill all the spots with those criteria. The focus of this program is on bringing health benefits to Austin’s African American community, but anyone is welcome to participate.

Community-driven initiatives

These Community Driven Initiatives are projects that can be carried out and assessed in a year or less. These initiatives champion an idea called “planning to stay”— supporting underserved groups to stay in the community and working against gentrification. 

Since these initiatives started, there have been 208 ideas submitted. Applications are currently open for the next “Call for Ideas.” If you have an idea to improve the health of a community in Central Texas, you can submit your idea here.

KXAN’s Alyssa Goard is working on an in-depth report about this Inter-generational Gardening program. Learn more tonight at 10 p.m. on KXAN News.

“All Things Blessed” is the name of Valerie Fruge’s garden in East Austin, one of the sites for the Inter generational Gardening program. This program is supported by Dell Medical School’s Community Driven Initiatives. (KXAN Photo/Alyssa Goard).

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