West Marion’s community garden has received a $10,000 grant to further distribute fresh, healthy food to local citizens.

Keeping It Fresh Community Garden has been listed among 21 recipients by The Conservation Fund for the 2017 Grant Program for Transporting Healthy Food.

The Conservation Fund, a national nonprofit dedicated to finding conservation solutions that balance environmental and economic needs, announced this week that 21 charitable organizations throughout the country will receive grants, sponsored by freight transportation company CSX, ranging from $5,000 to $10,000 to improve their capacity to store and safely deliver fresh, healthy food to their communities.

Vickey Stinson, Garden Coordinator, was thrilled upon hearing the news late last December.

“We’re extremely excited,” said Stinson. “It was really difficult to receive this grant.”

The garden, located next to Addie’s Chapel United Methodist Church in Marion, rests in the center of the neighborhood, selling flowers, herbs and fresh produce to community members, the elderly and low-income families, as well as selling to the Tailgate Market. Officially breaking ground in May 2017, it is among several projects undertaken by the West Marion Community Forum, a group of local citizens aimed on improving the lives and well-being of their neighbors.

“The idea for the garden,” said Stinson, “was to put fresh vegetables into the community. It has been a great building project that has brought our community together. ”

Paula Avery, co-chair of the West Marion Community Forum, discussed the impact the garden has on youth members who currently or previously participated.

“The majority of the kids we had stayed in, either played video games or on their phones,” said Avery, “but this garden has built their self-esteem and made them more responsible.”

According to Stinson, the $10,000 grant will be put toward buying a new refrigerator for produce – a much needed commodity, she said  – storage supplies like baskets and other essentials to more safely store produce and improve accessibility for the community, as well as hiring five more youth members under an apprenticeship system.

“We’d want the five members currently working there to pick five of their friends and train them,” said Stinson. “This would give the youth more control of the garden.”

In a statement following the Conservation Fund’s news, Katie Allen, director of the fund’s Conservation Leadership Network, said, “We’re proud to once again offer the Transporting Healthy Food Grants to local organizations who are working to ensure that fresh, healthy food is available to the communities who need it. Their work on the ground is vital to ensuring the health and well-being of people and producers, as well as communities and local economies. With these grants we hope to give each organization the support they need to continue and expand this vital work.”

According to a press release sent, this year’s funding will allow the 21 recipient organizations to collectively serve an additional 225,000 families with 6.3 million meals.