Hello there! My name is Marin LaFrankie and I am the Food Access Intern at Project GROWS.

As a senior dietetics major at James Madison University, my passion stems from healthy eating and, most importantly, promoting food access. Growing up in Loudoun County, Virginia, I vividly remember the field trips my class and I would take to a local, sustainable, and educational farm out in Berryville, Virginia. These field trips taught me how different vegetables grow, how compost soil works, and where my food comes from. These field trips left me with great wonder about how our fruits and vegetables get from the soil to our plates. I recall running home immediately after these field trips and explaining to my mother that our family absolutely needed to start a garden of our own. As I reminisce, I can’t help but think that they have made a substantial impact about the way that I think about food today.

2020 Food Access Intern Marin LaFrankie assists students at the Boys and Girls Club during on a lesson about soil and compost.

Flash forward 16 years, I now want to leave others with the same impression I had as a child through my work with Project GROWS. When I was first introduced to Project GROWS, it was the summer into my senior year at JMU. I began my time there as a volunteer, mulching and weeding on the farm. At this time in my life, I was still trying to figure out exactly which field of nutrition I wanted to enter as an aspiring dietitian. After learning that the farm also participates in the Farmer’s Market in North Augusta and Waynesboro and had an internship that focused on not only education but food access, I jumped at the opportunity. This internship has allowed me to build upon the passion that I have for educating the youth while also introducing me to the food access part of the farm. My time during this internship has been one of the most impactful experiences of my life.

In my first month of interning with Project GROWS, I worked at the Young Chefs program at the Boys and Girls Club in Staunton. During this time, I was able to teach kids how to safely cut and cook a vegetable stir fry with locally grown turnips. The kids were soaring with excitement because they were able to cut the vegetables and herbs themselves. During a class discussion we found out that no one knew what a turnip was or what it even looked like, for the most part. Afterwards while we were eating our masterpiece, the kids were absolutely astonished at how good it tasted. They exclaimed that they were excited to tell their parents about the recipe and were looking forward to trying it again!

Students chop veggies for a recipe during a Young Chefs cooking class at the Boys and Girls Club.

In addition to improving the health of the youth in Waynesboro and Augusta through garden based learning, Project GROWS also plays an integral role in food access to those that are in need. What does this encompass? Food access means providing food, more importantly fresh fruits and vegetables, for EVERYONE. Through a variety of healthy food incentive programs, Project GROWS works to increase the access of fruits and vegetables through their farmer’s markets. They allow Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program (SNAP) participants, formally known as food stamps, to participate in their farmer’s markets. What this means is that people who are eligible for SNAP benefits can also use their benefits at their farmer’s market; allowing patrons to purchase whole fruits and vegetables that they may not be able to find in a regular grocery store. In addition to this, Project GROWS also participates in the WIC and Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (FMNP), which provides low-income families and seniors to use vouchers exclusively for the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables.

What gives me a hope for a healthier, more sustainable future? Project GROWS! Not only are the Project GROWS staff educating youth about the importance of healthy eating and gardening, but they are also providing fresh fruits and vegetables to many aspects of their community. This combination provides the tools to the surrounding schools and community for developing healthy eating habits and knowledge of wholesome nutritional choices. Seeing the children’s excitement when given access to new and different foods along with fun ways to prepare them is evidence of the positive impact that Project GROWS has on the community.

-Marin LaFrankie, 2020 Food Access Intern