College students research local food insecurity, teach children

ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) — Thanks to a grant, a Bridgewater student and professor, along with a few others, will work on researching food insecurity in Rockingham County throughout the summer and teach children in the community about it.

This is the second year of research for the garden.

Every year, Bridgewater College gives out TREB (the Research Experience @ Bridgewater) grants for student's research projects. Last year, Sydney McTigue was the recipient of a TREB grant, which allowed her and Dr. Tim Kreps to plant a garden with the purpose of serving local food pantries.

McTigue now serves as the garden coordinator.

"We know that we're not going to fix this problem," McTigue said. "It's us supplementing what's there, but we've seen a noticeable increase with people who are taking fresh food, because they really do want it."

The garden is behind the Bridgewater Church of the Brethren on ground the church owned but was not using. The produce grown was meant to serve the church's pantry, but the garden grew more than expected and extra produce was taken to Blessed Sacrament in Harrisonburg, as well as Bethany United Methodist in Weyers Cave.

In 2018, the garden supplied 1,700 pounds of food to the food pantries. The goal for 2019 is to provide 2,000 pounds of food to the pantries.

Through the research, McTigue said they tried to research space-efficient plants and food that people wanted to eat.

"I think it's important to be able to actually address what people need in their diets because this is... they're either not getting what they need from government funding or they're not eligible," McTigue said.

This year, Lauren Buckhout is the recipient of the TREB grant. Buckhout added a new element to the research by adding an educational program. Once a week throughout the summer, 20 to 30 students from the Bridgewater Church of the Brethren summer program will attend a learning session with Buckhout and help in the garden.

"Maybe we can inspire some enthusiasm for them to take this further," Buckhout said.

On Wednesday, the students had a lesson about seeds and planting. They planted seeds that will eventually be planted in the garden.

"To teach children about our mission here to feed people, right," Buckhout said, "and to also get them excited about learning about this kind of stuff."

There are an average of 15 volunteers per week who help with the garden, but McTigue and Buckhout said they are in need of more and would like to double that number by the end of summer. If you are interested in volunteering, you can email gardenbridgewater@gmail.com.