Dillard University's Office of Community Relations is helping people in Gentilly stay healthy. Eve Abrams explores the university's efforts to combat obesity, poor nutrition, and bad eating habits throughout the neighborhood.
Chrisean Mitchell shows me around the community garden in back of her Gentilly school.
“That’s Daisy’s chicken coop, and over here is China, Elizabeth, Sleepy, Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday’s coop. Daisy has her own coop, because when chickens are in a group, they pick that one chicken that they’re going to pick on, so Daisy has her own coop so she can kinda relax and not get beat on.”
Chrisean is in the fifth grade at Langston Hughes Academy, but her education in gardening has taken her all the way to college.
“When we go to Dillard we learn about different things,” says Daisy. “We up-pot, we learn about greenhouse effect. We learn about putting plants to germinate. And then we bring them back to our garden and put them in the ground.”
Nick Harris is the Director of Dillard University's Community Development Corporation. “The kids are learning all about fresh fruit and vegetables. And the reason for this is because this part of Gentilly was known as a food dessert.”
Along with their partners, like Langston Hughes, Dillard’s Community Development arm is working to combat obesity, poor nutrition, and bad eating habits all over Gentilly.
“The kids come to Dillard University to learn about botany and biology from our students in Botany and Biology,” says Harris. “We have a greenhouse, so we start the seeding process at Dillard. Once they get to a certain height or maturity, we bring them back over to Langston and we plant them.”
Learning they are! I, for one, had no idea what up-potting meant, but Chrisean Mitchell explained it.
“Up-pot means we take it from a small itty bit pot and then we move it to a big pot,” she says. "We do that so it can have more to grow, so it can be at least in a germination station when you move it into the ground so it can grow more.
Nick Harris, from Dillard, says in this partnership everyone wins.
“It’s giving our students more exposure to the community, and giving young kids in an urban community exposure to a college campus to let them know what the next step is in life," he explains. “And then, by them coming to a college campus, taking a science lab class, that adds to the excitement of what’s ahead of them.”
But most importantly, this program educates young people about healthier foods.
“It’s very important for the young people to learn the importance of good nutrition," he says. "And eventually it fights current chronic diseases. This is is all a preventative measure and educational at the same time.”
All this gardening and botany and talk of vegetables seems to be working.
Chrisean Mitchell explains: “Well I started eating salads because they were really good. And they had stuff in there I never tried, but when I tried it, I started eating salads.”
Mitchell says spinach is her favorite salad ingredient. Her mom’s been making it. She wants to stay healthy, too.