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A new partnership between the Coley Springs Missionary Baptist Church, pastored by Reverend Carson Jones, and the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention (HPDP) seeks to cultivate better health and improve access to fresh foods through a community garden.

The Harvest of Hope project will create a church garden at Coley Springs Missionary Baptist Church in Warren County.  The project will examine how the garden can help develop farming skills in the community and reduce health disparities through improved access to fruits and vegetables.

Reverend William Kearney, an associate pastor and health ministry coordinator at Coley Springs, formed a committee with church members to consider turning one of the church’s fifty acres into a vegetable garden. He then approached HPDP researchers about developing the project because he knew of the Center’s interest in the health benefits of sustainable farming.

Molly De Marco, an HPDP researcher and Alice Ammerman, director of HPDP and professor of nutrition at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health first met Rev. Kearney while working on a project with Shaw University and Black churches to address health disparities.  De Marco and Ammerman will co-lead the study at UNC and will work in close partnership with Rev. Jones, Rev. Kearney, and Coley Springs leaders to continue the work the church leaders have already begun.

“This study was initiated by members of Coley Springs Missionary Baptist Church in an effort to empower their fellow members to make positive changes in their lives while also using the abundance of land they have been blessed with,” said De Marco. “Many churches have started community gardens, similar to victory gardens of past generations, but this is one of the first garden projects to have its impacts studied rigorously from the start.”

The project will study the garden’s impact using a new tool developed by the HPDP team that measures attitudes about grocery shopping, farming, gardening, food production, and fruits and vegetables,  as well as cooking skills, history with gardening,  and access to fruits and vegetables.

Warren County has some of the highest rates of poverty and unemployment in North Carolina. With the demise of tobacco, some residents are seeking new crops to farm, or are turning away from farming altogether.  Rev. Kearney remains  focused on the opportunities that exist in a county characterized by an abundance of land, experienced farmers and an engaged faith community.

“We are rich in resources and we need to use those resources to empower our residents to improve their health and their economics,” said Rev. Kearney.

HPDP Contact: Sonya Sutton, Communications Specialist,; 919-966-4118

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