Rural Interest Group



Volume 52   Number 1 Winter 2019

Rural Interests

Edited by Susana Helm, University of Hawai`i at Mānoa

Rural IG Leadership Update

Cheryl Ramos and Susana Helm have been serving as Rural IG co-chairs since 2015 and 2011 respectively.  As of spring 2018, both Cheryl and Susana concluded their co-chair responsibilities. Susana will continue to edit the Rural column. Suzanne Philips will continue as a co-chair (2015-present) and is managing the rural googlegroup/ listserve.  Melissa Cianfrini has joined the team as our new co-chair (2018-present), and will be managing the rural web content on and

Rural Resources

The Rural IG column of The Community Psychologist highlights rural resources as well as the work of community psychologist, students, and colleagues in their rural environments. Please email Susana at if you would like to submit a brief rural report or if you have resources we may list here. 

In this issue, we highlight the work of Danielle Giroux and her students at Mount Vernon Nazarene University where she teaches in the Social Work Department.  Danielle earned an MSW from Hawai`i Pacific University and a PhD in Clinical-Community Psychology from the University of Alaska Anchorage. Her research interests are in prevention and intervention - rural sexual assault and substance use. Emily Smith and Katherine Decker were enrolled in the Environmental Justice social work elective course taught by Danielle and they lead the 2017-2018 effort as described in this issue. Their article highlights food insecurity and community gardening, so we are highlighting relevant resources here:



Community Garden Initiative to Help Reduce Food Insecurity

Written by Danielle Giroux, Emily Smith, and Katherine Decker


Our school motto here at Mount Vernon Nazarene University (MVNU) is “to seek to learn is to seek to serve.” MVNU_Garden_Club.pngStudents in the 2017 Environmental Justice class in the Social Work Department put this motto into practice through the creation of a sustainable community garden that helps reduce food shortages in our county. The U.S. Federal Government defines a “rural” area as an area with less than 50,000 people (U.S. Census Bureau, 2016). Fifteen percent of households (2.7 million households) located in rural (nonmetropolitan) areas are food insecure (Coleman-Jensen, et al., 2017). Our university is located in the town of Mount Vernon in Knox County, Ohio. Knox County has a population of approximately 61,000, with the largest metropolitan area, Mount Vernon, having a population of only 16,000 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2016). According to Feeding America® (2017), the nationwide nonprofit network of food banks, an estimated 8,350 people (14%) in Knox County are food insecure. Of those, 2,505 (30%) are not eligible for benefits such as WIC, SNAP, or TANF because they do not meet the federal requirements. They must rely on local food banks to provide the food they need month to month.

During the fall 2017 semester, MVNU students and social work faculty sought to aide food insecure households in Knox County by creating the MVNU Garden through the social work elective course on Environmental Justice (EJ). MVNU’s rural setting and beautiful outdoor space seemed ideal for a garden. Under Dr. Giroux’s direction, the EJ students conducted research, sought approval, and applied for a grant to fund the initial construction of the garden (awarded 2/2018 from a local foundation).

Sustainability and Growth

Though the garden started as a class project, it eventually grew to include the help of students, faculty, and Garden_Box_After_Planting.pngcommunity members beyond the original Environmental Justice class. With funding available to move forward with the project, the students sought out partnerships with area community garden organizations. For example, the Ohio State University’s Knox Extension provided guidance on how to plan the garden, e.g. which varieties of fruits and vegetables are most popular at local food pantries, as well as how to prepare the harvest to be delivered to food pantries. Similarly, Community Roots, a local non-profit in Mount Vernon, reconnects the public with nature through gardening (Fry, 2017). Kim Fry, Director of Community Roots, offered a hoop house (small, insulated greenhouse) to start seeds during the cold winter months. The students visited the hoop house twice a week to tend to the seeds, and they also raised awareness on MVNU campus of volunteer events that Community Roots hosted. Future plans include developing partnerships with the local hot meals program with assistance from Community Roots volunteer, Erin Salva, and with the Salvation Army staple food pantry

As interest grew, other student organizations on campus began to get involved. For example, the Sustainability Club at MVNU strives to educate and promote sustainability and environmental awareness. Students from the Environmental Justice class collaborated with the MVNU Sustainability Club to raise awareness of garden activities and events. Members of the club also helped water seedlings at the Community Roots hoop house. A few members of the Sustainability Club have volunteered to help with the garden during the summer months.

Making an Impact

Community Impact. From the very beginning, the goal of the MVNU Garden was to make a positive impact on MVNU_Student_Volunteers_1.jpgMVNU_Student_Volunteers_2.jpgthe Mount Vernon Community. The Garden will do so by aiding those in Knox County who face food insecurity. The students who started the MVNU Garden recognized the need within the Mount Vernon community for fresh produce. The Garden Project has addressed this issue by partnering with the Mount Vernon Salvation Army food pantry.

Campus Impact. As the project developed, it became evident that The Garden would have a positive impact on our campus. This impact will be seen in the garden contributing to scientific learning and student wellness. The Garden will be available to faculty who wish to include it as a part of their class lessons. Students have reached out to the Biology Department to offer the garden as a learning tool for classes such as Botany. They have also reached out to the Esther Jetter Preschool, located on our campus, to discuss incorporating educational nature and garden-oriented activities into their preschool activities, once the garden is more established.

Student Impact. In addition to the positive academic impacts that the garden will have, we also anticipate that it will help students grow a sense of community on campus. Past research has suggested that a community garden reduces college students’ ethnocentrism scale scores (e.g. the GENE scale), and that working collaboratively within a community garden increased community commitment scores (Hoffman, Wallach & Sanchez, 2009). It is our hope that as the Garden Project expands so will the sense of community on our campus.

Environmental Impact. EIs were essential since the Garden Project started as a final project for the Environmental Justice class. One example is to encourage students, faculty, and volunteers to spend time outside enjoying nature to enhance environmental awareness. Studies have examined the effectiveness of school gardens in establishing environmental awareness in children. Through gardening, children begin to understand that each plant needs the sun, earth, air, and water to grow, and how these things can be hindered by factors such as human indifference (Brynjegard, 2001). The same awareness and respect for the environment hopefully will be instilled in the adults that work in the MVNU Garden.

Lessons Learned – Community Connections

Our community connections were important in helping us to select the right kind of produce, as well as helping us staff the building and harvesting of the garden. The Ohio State University Master Growers program helped us to think through what kinds of foods may be most useful to the food pantry – e.g. lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, watermelon, and zucchini.

The two biggest challenges that our garden faced during the first year - determining the planting table for various produce items and recruitment of summer volunteers – were surmounted by creating community connections. Because Ohio experienced snow late into April, our connection with Community Roots was invaluable for helping us to begin the planting process with the support of a greenhouse. To staff the garden during the summer we are relying on volunteers from our campus and from the greater Mount Vernon area. We hope to expand our volunteers to local 4-Hs, FFA members, church congregations, and boy/girl scout groups.


The MVNU Garden will thrive and grow for many years to come. The students who started the Garden did so out of a sense of responsibility and pride in the MVNU Campus, Mount Vernon Community, and environment. We hope that their hard work and determination will be an example to future MVNU students, faculty, and community members to look for ways to positively impact the world around them. The MVNU Garden is more than just a place to grow fruits and vegetables. It is a place to learn about plants and the environment. It is an area to seek refuge and to enjoy nature. It is a valuable tool for providing fresh fruits and vegetables to those who are food insecure. It is a place to come together as a community to make a positive impact.


Brynjegard, Shira. (2001). School Gardens: Raising Environmental Awareness in Children. Dominican University of California. Retrieved from

Coleman-Jensen, A., Rabbitt, M., Gregory, C., & Singh, A. (2017). Household Food Security in the United States in 2016. Table 2. USDA ERS.

Feeding America (2017) Rural Hunger Fact Sheet. Retrieved From

Fry, K. (2017). Who We Are. Community Roots Ohio. Retrieved from

Hoffman, A.J., Wallach, J., Sanchez, E. (2009). Reducing ethnocentric ideology via multiethnic community service work. Planting seeds of hope. Making Connections: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Cultural Div. 11(1), 40-49.

Mount Vernon Nazarene University. (2018). Mount Vernon Nazarene University Fact Sheet         2017-2018. Retrieved from

U.S. Census Bureau (2016). Rural health. Retrieved from