Bumgarner said he has received one application since it was released in late February, but he has received a lot of interest from residents, especially on Facebook. He also said he hopes the program can be expanded and funds can be increased in the future, and encouraged anyone interested at all to apply.
“Go ahead and submit your application. I don’t know if the county will fund this next year. I’m hoping they will, but we’ll go as far as the money goes,” he said.
Orange County Commissioner Mark Marcoplos was the primary county official responsible for getting the funds secured for the grant program. He cited a meeting he attended held by the Department of Health and Human Services where community gardens were one of the more popular ideas for filling food security gaps in the county.
“I also have gardened all my life, and so I know how much food you can get out of a small amount of land, and how nutritious it is,” Marcoplos said.
He hopes the grant program will give more access to help people feed themselves with more nutritious food and increase community relations.
Experts from UNC also said there are a number of benefits to community gardens that are backed up by research. Molly De Marco, a UNC nutrition research assistant professor, focuses on community-based solutions and research into food insecurity.
“It often encourages people to increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables,” De Marco said. “It also has social benefits, too, around building community and building social support among folks and reducing isolation and things like that.”
She said locally grown foods are proven to be healthier, and on a larger scale, that locally grown food is more environmentally friendly.
“I do think that it’s fantastic that our county has decided to support community gardens financially,” De Marco said, noting that often community gardens struggle to find money and are rarely supported by local governments.
UNC global studies teaching associate professor Michal Osterweil also said eliminating supply chains through community gardening reduces carbon footprints. She said they help connect people to others and with nature, something she said is often lacking in modern society.
She also said funding these gardens can make them more inclusive spaces.
“It’s really nice to be able to start seeing support being offered to make it more accessible to those that can’t start it on their own,” Osterweil said.
Grant applications are due the last day of March, June, September and December. The program will make its decisions in April, July, October and January and will give out grants until all funds are exhausted.