Good Food Good Medicine: Reaping Garden Benefits Year-round

By Libby Weiland, Statewide Network Coordinator & Joann Darling, Good Food Good Medicine

Joann Darling is a Food Justice educator for the Barre-based group, Good Food Good Medicine. Good Food Good Medicine is a grassroots food justice program that provides adult and children’s community food and gardening education free of charge to residents in two affordable housing sites in Barre. In this Garden Spotlight Joann talks about the year-round nature of the program, which adapted to resident requests for consistent and continual wellness support.

Q: What sparked your year-round approach with the Good Food Good Medicine program?

A: Our program participants asked for more herbal and health education.  We are here to serve our participants in the most meaningful way, so we asked what do you want, need, etc.

The addition of year-round programming creates constancy in health goals and our program.

Q: How does the program run?

A: In the winter our focus in on health and wellness education, accessible ingredients and easy to maintain wellness routines.  Our springs are filled with planning and planting the gardens and door to door visits with residents inviting families to join us for the summer programs.  We found that consistency is important, so we offer the program at the same times and days each season.  After polling the residents we heard that most of the adult gardeners wanted afternoon classes. The children’s program runs in the mornings, so we found that afternoons tend to be family time.  The fall is filled with harvesting, food preservation and a few field trips such as apple picking.  We work at affordable housing sites in Barre which have community rooms with kitchens and gardens on site. 

Q: What does your group do best?

A: One of the ways in which we feel most effective is when we ask: “What do you want? How can we help?” Our program flows with the needs of the participants strongly roots in our mission: “Solidarity not Charity.” The Solidarity-not-Charity model puts people’s health and wellbeing into their own hands, encouraging:

  • hands-on experience in growing and eating fresh garden produce,
  • creative navigation of local food resources such as gleaning, bartering, and food drops,
  • increased nutritional literacy,
  • reclamation of traditional food practices and knowledge of backyard remedies, and
  • a safe and inclusive learning environment that fosters community building, resilience, and encouragement of leadership and peer education amongst all program participants. 

Q: How has your group been able to sustain year-round programming?

A:  We maintain a good working relationship with the governing bodies that run the affordable housing site we work in.  This relationship is crucial to a strong and long running program.  Our garden and food drop produce gets processed and frozen for much of our needs in the winter program.  We also have been able to dry and process much of the culinary and medicinal herbs used for teas and remedies.  We also have fruit and berry plant and perennials.  If we see that something isn’t working we change it so as to not waste resources.  Our team is constantly looking for funding and exposure. We love what we do and know that we’re making a difference in people’s lives, they tell us so!

Q: What challenges have you had to address in the program? How have you addressed them?

A: Many of our residents don’t have vehicles. As a solution we offer carpooling for residents and reimburse gas to those willing to drive. We are working on a local map to help our participants navigate and access fresh local foods. Also to increase access for young/new moms we welcome little ones to come with them to programs. 

Q: Give us an example of what your programming looks like in the middle of the winter.

A: Year-round we cook together, share recipes and meals. In the winter our activities adapt towards making herbal home remedies and culinary herb and tea blends from preserved and dried garden herbs and other healing plants. We also host a holiday “make and take” party so that participants can share their creations with family and friends.

Check out this slideshow for a full look at Good Food Good Medicine’s year-round programming.

Q: Any other tips for people looking to start a similar year-round program?

A:  Figure out the demographic you want to work with then ask them what they need. The need for food and health justice in enormous.  The struggle is funding to maintain quality programming and to fulfill the needs of participants. 


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