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BenderDigger project hopes to get kids into the dirt

Posted: July 21, 2013 - 12:01am
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Kristina Williams (standing in back) organized BenderDigger, a youth gardening program in the River Island subdivision. Some of the participants are Chris Williams, 8, (front, from left) Ava Wilson, 8, Alexis Williams, 6, and Sara Alemar, 16; Coley Shiver, 7, (back, from left) and Neo Alemar.  Photo by Jim Blaylock
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Kristina Williams (standing in back) organized BenderDigger, a youth gardening program in the River Island subdivision. Some of the participants are Chris Williams, 8, (front, from left) Ava Wilson, 8, Alexis Williams, 6, and Sara Alemar, 16; Coley Shiver, 7, (back, from left) and Neo Alemar.

Studies have proven that children who spend more time outdoors score higher on tests, get more exercise and have an increased level of vitamin D. For those reasons and more, Kristina Williams has initiated a gardening project for children that she hopes will also give them an appreciation for growing their own food.

“I am a resident of River Island and the garden areas are all but abandoned,” said Williams, founder of Benderdinker, considered the largest kayaking event in the South. “They need a lot of TLC, but the basics are there so it seemed like a perfect fit.”

Her project, dubbed BenderDigger, is a year-long event that will involve children who live in the River Island neighborhood. The children are required to attend at least one session a week where there will be a planned curriculum.

“They will be hands-in the dirt from the start,” said Williams. “They are assigned to get their BenderDigger shirts dirty! We will tie dye them at the end of the season with vegetable dye.”

The children will help to plant and maintain several raised beds. They will use a new gardening technique known as hugelkultur. Hugelkultur, which originated in Europe, allows for the gardens to become self-watering via the placement of the plants in relation to each other.

“This technique has been successful in desolate areas and produced food crops that otherwise would not be grown,” said Williams. “As far as I know there may be a few people who are within the Georgia organics association that know of it and are implementing it. We will be the first to record the progress of it in a public garden in Georgia.”

BenderDigger participants will amend the soil, plant the plants, pull weeds, water the beds, learn about pests and how to treat them naturally, learn planting times of the various plants and what conditions they thrive in, as well as learn how to harvest the garden and ultimately cook or preserve those harvests.

“Our intention is to bring in speakers who relate to the project,” said Williams. Among the topics to be discussed are beekeeping, soil analysis, bats, worms and companion planting. Local chefs will also demonstrate preserving and cooking.

“In addition to learning about slow foods and gardening, we will expose them to the natural environment around them,” added Williams. “We will go on kayaking trips, walks to pick berries, forage for edible wild plants and teach them about the wildlife that lives in their back yard. The location of this program is ideal for the youth in this community. We want to show them how cool it is to be outside!”

Williams has incurred the startup costs of the program, which amounts to close to $1,500. She hopes, however, to get area businesses and individuals to donate to the cause. Because BenderDigger is not a non-profit, it cannot be considered for grants. Donations, however, can be made online via the BenderDigger website at www.benderdigger.com.

“Any amount is welcome,” said Williams. “One berry bush may cost $20, but will produce fruit for years to come. This may be the best return on investment you could find.”

For Williams, however, it’s much more than just business.

“It’s about teaching these kids about all of the incredible things that happen right outside their door and it’s about teaching them how to feed themselves healthy foods,” she said. “The only way, in my opinion, to do that is to get them to grow it themselves.

“My hope for the future of BenderDigger is to build it bigger each year,” continued Williams. “We have a lot of plots that are not used. In the future, we may add an adult version. I hope to see all of the beds being used to produce wonderful foods. I hope to see these kids supplying their produce to some local restaurants and, hopefully, schools and I hope to teach them about how to eat healthy, cook healthy and live healthy …”

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