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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Mercer medical students grow fresh produce for Middle Georgia food bank

Two third-year students at the Mercer University School of Medicine are growing fresh produce for a local food bank to combat a lack of access to fresh food in Macon.

Ayana Graham and Austin Miller started growing fruits and vegetables at a community garden owned by Centenary United Methodist Church last year to earn their “Distinguished in Service to the Community Project” (DISC).

The projects aim to “encourage students to participate in service learning through creating partnerships with local organizations and providing programs that will enrich and benefit the community,” according to Mercer Medicine’s DISC webpage.

“I need a hobby, and you know, people need to eat vegetables. They need to eat better,” Graham said.

Both students had never gardened before, so they researched online.

“I thought it was kind of therapeutic,” Miller said. “I really need to get away from studying all the time, so it was a nice release. It was definitely a learning curve though, because the people on Youtube and Google made it look easy, and then we got out here and our plants would be destroyed.”

Graham was also inspired by the closing of the Kroger on Pio Nono Avenue in April 2018.

“I remember seeing people walk to that Kroger, and I was thinking, ‘well, where are they gonna go now? Where are they gonna get their vegetables or groceries, period?’” she said.

The closing of that Kroger created a food desert, according to an article by the Macon Telegraph.

Food deserts are considered “parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas,” according to the American Nutrition Association.

However, Graham found a way to make a change.

“Then I realized how many community resources Macon has, just shelters which are basically there to just feed, clothe, you know, (give) whatever people need, and they run off donations, so I was like, ‘ok what if we grew vegetables and then donated them?’” she said.

The project donates the produce to the Rescue Mission of Middle Georgia.

Graham and Miller create and donate health resource pamphlets with the food they donate.

Both students hope the project will continue to provide for the community, even after they leave Mercer.

“We’re both graduating in 2020, so I guess that's like the set limit. I’ve been talking to a couple of students who are behind us and trying to see if I can get somebody to take it over,” Graham said.


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