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Gardens-Front Lines for Healthy Living

East Omaha includes a sizeable economically distressed area. Poverty rates and obesity among the youth are high and access to healthy food is a problem for those who need it most.Rev. Stephanie Ahlschwede, Executive Director of United Methodist Ministries for the Missouri River District began "The Big Garden" project in 2005 in direct response to the need for improving these impoverished conditions. Aided by a grant from the USDA Community Food Projects in Action, five gardens were established in 2006. By 2009, the Big Garden network had grown to 26 gardens through collaboration with area congregations and a variety of community organizations. Through a cooperative program with a local nursing association, cooking classes are being taught at a number of schools as part of their after school program. Many of the young people participating had never experienced fresh fruits and vegetables before. The young people love the fresh produce as well as many of the products generated from the gardens. Kale chips are a particular favorite and the kids can't get enough of them. The Big Garden is now on to its second USDA grant, "The Big Rural Garden Project of Southeast Nebraska." Three gardens were started in the first year, including one on an acre of land outside Auburn. Produce from the garden was sold at both a local farmers market and the locally owned grocery store, giving the entire community the opportunity to "eat local."