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Extension Corner: Harvest produce with grandparents


Research has shown that an increasing number of grandparents are raising their grandchildren, making it essential that they are provided with necessary resources and support needed to do so successfully, according to Dr. Karleah Harris, assistant professor in the Department of Human Sciences at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB).
“One way we have tried to support them is by helping them to grow their own food,” Dr. Harris said. “I find immense joy in teaching about gardening and its profound impact on families, especially grandfamilies.”
A partnership between UAPB’s School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences (SAFHS), the Jefferson County Cooperative Extension Service and the Pine Bluff First Assembly (PBFA) church, has brought together grandparents and their grandchildren for an experience of planting and harvesting produce at a community garden, she said.
Guided by university project leaders, grandparents and their grandchildren planted and cared for an assortment of fruits, vegetables and herbs including bell peppers, eggplant, cabbage, tabasco peppers, strawberries and sweet potatoes, Harris said. Through the Extension initiative grandparents and grandchildren were also taught lessons about stormwater, effective parenting, sweet potato production management, and communications and computer skills.
“When families engage in growing their own food, they unlock a multitude of advantages, including maintaining a healthy diet, being aware of the food’s nutritional content, saving on expenses, connecting with nature, witnessing crop growth at various stages, and reaping physical, psychological and social rewards,” she said.
The garden project will continue into the fall, according to Dr. Obadiah M. Njue, UAPB assistant dean for Extension and outreach. It will involve new teachings and new challenges.
“Fall gardening is more challenging because of the high temperatures that promote weed growth, high insect populations and high humidity which can promote plant diseases,” Dr. Njue said. “The hot and dry late summer/early fall weather can be harsh on germinating seeds and young seedlings. The key to success is to ensure that plants are watered regularly, in the evening or early morning.”
The vegetables have varying planting times and approximate days until harvest, he said. Some examples of vegetables, with approximate days from seed sowing to maturity that can be planted in the fall include, lettuce (45-65), turnips (40-55), mustard (40-50), broccoli (50-75), collards (50-75), cabbage (60-82), kale (55), spinach (42), carrots (66-75), beet (54-68), Swiss Chard (60) and Bok Choi (40-60).
“It is a great privilege to interact with a very rewarding gardening project organized and led by Dr. Karleah Harris,” Dr. Njue said. “This project offers unique opportunities for both the grandparents and their grandchildren.”
Dr. Sathish Ponniah, associate professor in UAPB’s Department of Agriculture, has been assisting with the project. The grandparents are educated on different methods of propagating the seeds, conserving the use of natural resources, water management, harvesting time of the particular vegetables and storing the seeds for the coming season.

“Gardening for grandparents increases the knowledge of growing different crops and enhances their physical activities,” Dr. Ponniah said. “Overall, gardening improves the health conditions of grandparents by consuming healthy produce grown in the gardens.”
Also helping with the project is Kevin Harris, Jefferson County Extension agent. Harris teaches, conducts field demonstrations, aids with the maintenance of the garden and provides consultation to the grandparents and grandchildren. He also teaches them about stormwater and soil testing.
“Educating grandparents and grandchildren how to utilize water efficiently to grow vegetables and fruits, the opportunity to help improve the lives of people in the community, and working with UAPB builds a brighter future for Jefferson County,” Mr. Harris said.
Currently, there are 10 grandparents and seven grandchildren involved in the project, Dr. Harris said. The project is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), accession number (1026665).
Carmel Steward, a grandparent participant, said she has been involved in the project for three years. She says there have been challenges such as keeping the garden watered, especially during hot three-digit days, but that it is well worth the work involved. She is a member of the PBFA.
“I’m very thankful for the PBFA/UAPB gardening program and the experience it has given my family,” Steward said. “A portion of our PBFA church backyard has been transformed from a lawn to a vibrant community garden. I believe this is the third year and each year has brought a better experience, new faces, additional veggies and fruits and a plentiful harvest until late fall. Thank you, Mr. & Dr. Harris, for keeping us connected and teaching us to thrive off the land.”
Lillian Jynes, another grandparent participant, has been involved with the project since 2022.
“The garden gave me the opportunity to utilize some of my gardening skills that I learned in my childhood,” Jynes said. “As an added bonus, I watched our community enjoy a variety of organic food from the garden.” 
UAPB’s Department of Human Sciences is leading the project, according to Dr. Marilyn Bailey, interim chair of the department. The project involves all three initiates of a land-grant university—teaching, research and Extension.
“Dr. Harris seems to have unending positive energy as she shares a wealth of knowledge about gardening,” Dr. Bailey said. “Her main goal is to make a difference with the next generation by connecting them to an understanding about the benefits of gardening and how to be better parents. In doing so, grandparents and their grandchildren have an opportunity to bond and live a healthier lifestyle.”