story by Brittany Shepard | photos by Drew Chapman
Throughout its history, the DuBois Institute has dedicated itself to finding ways to close disparity gaps in the community by focusing on programs that impact lower socio-economic neighborhoods. From small business symposiums to tobacco prevention projects, the organization has been successful in numerous local and state campaigns. In 2008, the organization expanded its outreach to advocate against childhood obesity.
“With a strong commitment to impact childhood obesity and local food policy the DuBois Institute launched Aunt Katie’s Community Garden and Urban Farm in 2010,” said co-founder and executive director Michael Jackson. “This effort represents the first community garden in Dothan.”
Aunt Katie’s Community Garden is a half-acre site located near downtown Dothan. It is a certified USDA Peoples Garden and is used for both high-density food production and as a community garden for local gardeners.
The purpose of the garden is two-fold. On one hand, Aunt Katie’s hopes to provide fresh produce to those on limited budgets and those without space to garden themselves, to donate produce to the hungry, to educate the community about gardening and self-sufficient food sources, to promote nutrition and exercise and to instill appreciation and respect for nature.
On the other hand, the garden also hopes to foster a community spirit of togetherness. Aunt Katie’s Community Garden is “a garden revolution for kids and adults to learn to grow and enjoy nutritious food while bringing neighbors closer together.”
Michael has seen how these two purposes meet and provide a wonderful opportunity for the community to do something important together.
“The project leverages community involvement to teach, entertain and inspire children and their families to learn about ‘real food’ and discover that food production can be beautiful, healthy and enhance the quality of life,” said Michael. “And, the garden is a great place to volunteer.”
What is the vision and mission of Aunt Katie’s Community Garden?
Our Vision: “Sustainable urban agriculture and gardens are tools to uplift communities, improve lives and drive advocacy for improving public health and local food policy”.
Our Mission Statement: “The DuBois Institute is a socially driven food enterprise serving low-income communities by providing garden-based learning in a marketplace (FoodLife Center) that promotes community wellness in the Wiregrass Area.”
We have created a marketplace for fresh, affordable food that we call a “FoodLife Center.” This healthy food access project brings a triple bottom line benefit to the low-income areas we serve. That triple-bottom- line benefit includes a revitalized neighborhood economy, job creation and overall better health. Our programs provide a variety of services and meets several needs including garden-based hands- on- learning which includes raised bed rentals and informal science classes. We also provide SNAP Education outreach to holders of food stamps. Our marketplace approach expands to new farmer education outreach with a focus on impacting the local specialty crop industry as a whole by promoting backyard and urban farming. Food preparation classes are also provided along with valuable canning classes, gardening classes and beekeeping classes.
Why do you think a community garden is needed in Dothan?
A vibrant “local foods” movement is emerging across the United States which insists on more direct connections between farmers and eaters. There are four key factors underscoring the importance and benefits of a robust local food system located in low income communities: 1 – community members can know the source of their food; 2 – the community becomes more self-reliant; 3 – overall health is improved; and 4 – economic development is expanded at the neighborhood level.
In its history, what impact has Aunt Katie’s Community Garden had on the communities it serves?
The most memorable quote from a child participant in our after-school program sums it up for me: ‘We love the garden because we grow stuff and then we taste it.’ Our project is raising awareness that food producing plants and seeds can be purchased with SNAP EBT benefits. We have several EBT holders who have rented raised beds at our garden to grow their own food. Likewise, the children from the Hawk-Houston Boys and Girls Club have enjoyed a garden summer camp at the garden over the past five years. We have a huge impact on food education for children ages 5 to 12.
The garden is a safe environment where folks of different cultures can relearn how to share and work together. The garden is a great platform to launch more school-based gardens and to encourage broader integration of food education into the academic curriculum of our local school system. Volunteering your time working with Aunt Katie’s Community Garden is also a very rewarding experience.
What is your organization’s greatest need and how can our readers help?
Our produce is for sale. So, we encourage community members to stop by for in season produce and herbs. We are also always in need of more funding support to sustain and expand our food access project. Folks can go to our website and donate online or they may mail donations payable to the DuBois Institute to P.O. Box 6102, Dothan, AL 36302. We can also always use more volunteers to do a variety of different things. Folks interested in volunteering may contact us at (334) 403-7165.
Where can our readers go for more information?
Folks may visit our website: www.dife.us or like us on Facebook. Call us at (334) 403-7165 to schedule a tour or volunteer.