Soldiers unload soil into raised garden beds behind the Drill Sergeant Timothy Kay Soldier Performance Readiness Center. Holistic Health and Fitness team members are using the garden as a way to teach healthy eating habits. (Courtesy Photo)

Fitness team uses garden to teach hands-on nutrition

By Nicole Topakas

“Gardening offers an opportunity for people to get their hands dirty while learning something new,” says Tony Paradis, civilian registered dietitian for the 165th Infantry Brigade Holistic Health and Fitness team. “It’s easier to understand nutrition when you get a hands-on experience.”

Many people have visited the Drill Sergeant Timothy Kay Soldier Performance Readiness Center since its opening in March of 2023, but probably most of those folks have not glimpsed the small teaching garden being built behind the facility. While the garden currently only hosts a kale plant, a few tomato plants, and zucchini, the vision for the project is substantial.

The H2F teams sharing the SPRC hope to create more raised beds that will house several varieties of vegetables as well as an extensive herb garden.

The garden has started small with efforts from several members of the H2F team.

Capt. Wes Mayeux, dietitian with the 165th Infantry Brigade H2F, along with other staff, has upcycled unwanted items and donated time and plants to get the garden going. So far, all the materials used for the construction of the garden boxes and trellis have been items slated for the landfill or recycling center, such as old wooden pallets. While the garden is not fancy, the team has already harvested a few tomatoes and hopes to see many more as the season progresses.

Gardening engages multiple H2F components, specifically the nutritional, physical, mental, and spiritual domains. Many people struggle to consume adequate fruits and vegetables, so teaching them how to grow their own fresh, delicious produce can encourage increased intake.

At the center, the H2F teams hope to use the produce from the teaching garden for meal preparation demonstrations to educate service members and families how to prepare fresh vegetables in simple yet creative ways. Gardening also requires some level of physical exertion, which contributes to regular low-intensity exercise. Additionally, spending time in nature, breathing fresh air, doing purposeful work, and absorbing sunlight can contribute to better mental and spiritual health.

“We hope the H2F teaching garden will inspire other gardening projects and community gardens across Fort Jackson,” said Andrew Hargus, program director of the 193rd Infantry Brigade H2F team. “Gardening really incorporates many facets of health. Through the teaching garden and several other activities, we promote here at the SPRC, we want to encourage Soldiers to live the principles of H2F.”

The project was inspired in part by the victory gardens established across the US during the world wars.

Victory gardens, originally known as war gardens or liberty gardens, were started during World War I after President Woodrow Wilson called on Americans to plant vegetable gardens in order to prevent food shortages during the war. Millions of Americans turned their yards, schoolyards, and vacant lots into thriving vegetable gardens.

During World War II, victory gardens were again reestablished to supplement rationed items with fresh produce. By May 1943, 40% of American produce came from victory gardens. Although it’s unlikely we will reach this percentage of at-home food production in the near future, encouraging home gardens can result in improving multiple aspects of health as well as decreasing food costs – a win-win situation.

The future vision includes establishing a centrally-located post community garden to engage more community involvement and ownership around holistic living to improve the quality of life for Soldiers, their families, civilians, and the larger FJSC community.

If you would like to get involved with volunteering or would like to learn more about the teaching garden, stop by the SPRC at 12650 Jackson Blvd. or call (803) 687-7047.