By Kaitlyn Rigdon
EL DORADO — Robin Bridges says gardening is a great way to bring families together and get children out of the house. Bridges spoke about “Gardening for Healthier Communities” at the TOUCH Coalition meeting on Tuesday, April 4.
Bridges is a 28-year extension agent and has worked in Union County for eight years. He has a bachelor’s degree from Louisiana Tech University in Ruston and a master’s degree from Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge.
Bridges works with adult and youth audiences to instill a strong sense of self worth through activities that teach, “we can raise our own food,” and “we can build and maintain healthy communities, one family at a time,” he said.
The Union County Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service is part of the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service’s statewide network and the University of Arkansas System’s Division of Agriculture. They have programs in all 75 counties, with 81 extension offices throughout Arkansas.
“Each office is staffed with dedicated people interested in trying to improve the lives of the citizens of that county through researched based information,” Bridges said.
Bridges has worked numerous projects in Union County by reaching out to children and adults to grow their own food using raised-bed gardens. One project Bridges and the extension service staff worked with was called “Planting the Seed” at the Junction City Elementary school in 2012.” The theory was that if children were involved in raising their own food, they would be more likely to try it,” Bridges said. “They did prove the theory that young people will absolutely try it because they grew it. They knew every step of this project and it made every difference in the world.”
Since then, Bridges has been involved with multiple projects, building raised-bed gardens at local schools and churches.
A recent project that the Bridges, the extension office and other experienced gardening volunteers have been working on is the Southside Community Garden. “This is one of the programs that I’m extremely proud of because this is volunteers at work,” Bridges said. “The goal of a community garden is to provide space for families that live in that community to come in, and at no cost, say ‘I would like to plant a garden.’”
The Southside Community Garden is a fenced in area on the corner of Jackson Street and Pecan Street. The lot, which was once home to Southside Elementary School, was provided by the City of El Dorado. All residents of Union County are invited to participate by using extra space as personal garden plots.
“Space is provided for families who work the ground, plant the seed, take care of the crops and then harvest what they grow,” Bridges said. “It costs nothing but time and effort.”
One of the volunteers is master gardener Fran Smith of Calion. “We just want to teach the local community something that’s lost, healthy and cheap,” Smith said. “They just have to call and get a gate key and they will have access to all of the tools they need.”
The community garden is always looking for financial support whether it be for tillers, gas, seeds, but most importantly, they are in need of more workers. “Just someone to help water for a few hours one day,” Smith said.
One piece of equipment the garden is in need of is a chipper shredder for their compost.
“There’s nothing better for you than fresh picked fruits and vegetables and the pride of growing your own really helps you mentally,” Bridges said. “These wonderful volunteers have done a great job at keeping it up.”
For more information on the community garden, Fran Smith may be contacted at (870) 814-1889.
Kaitlyn Rigdon may be contacted at 870-862-6611 or by email at [email protected] eldoradonews.com.