A recent initiative by the School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff works to support grandparents in Jefferson County who are raising their grandchildren. The project was made possible thanks to the Pine Bluff First Assembly of God, the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Jefferson County Extension Service, and is supported by a $60,000 grant from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).
“Research shows that grandparents play a key role as caregivers to their grandchildren, and the number of grandparents responsible for raising their grandchildren is increasing,” Dr. Karleah Harris, assistant professor for the UAPB Department of Human Sciences and founder of the project, said. “Providing grandparents with support, information, knowledge and skills are important. Through this project, we hope to give local grandparents the opportunity to learn, interact with others, see things from a different perspective, participate in engaging activities both indoors and outdoors, and ultimately be in a better position to help their grandchildren.”
The project helps local grandparents gain new communication, computer, and learning and teaching skills. A major focus of the program is on gardening. Harris works with Dr. Sathish Ponniah, associate professor for the UAPB Department of Agriculture, and Kevin Harris, Jefferson County Extension agent, to involve local grandparents and their grandchildren in engaging gardening activities. With instruction from the project leaders, participants planted cantaloupe, okra, tomatoes, squash, bell peppers and sweet potatoes in raised and elevated beds.
“The grandparents and grandchildren were instrumental in preparing the soil for planting and maintaining the crops and harvesting the produce,” Dr. Harris said. “During the activities, grandparents were also able to talk to their grandchildren about God and church. So far, five grandparents and their grandchildren have participated in the program.”
Carmel Steward, a member of the Pine Bluff First Assembly of God, said that thanks to the initiative, she, her husband and granddaughters were able to learn the basics of gardening, including planting, weeding, fertilizing, watering and pruning plants for maximum growth.
“We also received lessons on soil conservation and saving rainwater in barrels,” she said. “Together, we learned many of these lessons for the first time. We’re excited to have sweet potato pies this Thanksgiving made from sweet potatoes raised in the garden we planted, watered, weeded and harvested together. Our experience will be one of the memories passed on from generation to generation. We thank Dr. Harris, her family and the Pine Bluff First Assembly of God for this life-changing opportunity.”
Other educational sessions included topics such as stormwater, soil testing and sweet potato production. Last winter, participants had the chance to observe virus-tested sweet potato slip production in high tunnels at the UAPB campus. Dr. Ponniah said the tour of UAPB’s sweet potato production facilities introduced grandparents and grandchildren to horticulture and gave them a better idea about the production of crops.
“Working with grandparents and grandchildren and having the opportunity to work with people in the community and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff brings me joy,” Kevin Harris said. “This project has allowed us to provide training on a number of important topics.”
Dr. Harris said grandparents responsible for raising their grandchildren often face emotional, social, financial and physical challenges. Through teamwork in the garden, grandparents can impart new skills and a sense of independence and responsibility to their grandchildren. The activity is a great way for family members to bond together, and it helps grandchildren see their grandparents as role models.
Story and photo courtesy of Will Hehemann | School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences at UAPB