By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

Already established community gardens around North Little Rock show a preview of what’s to come for the Amboy UMC and Veterans Home gardens. || Photos provided by Scharmel Roussel

Already established community gardens around North Little Rock show a preview of what’s to come for the Amboy UMC and Veterans Home gardens. || Photos provided by Scharmel Roussel

Already established community gardens around North Little Rock show a preview of what’s to come for the Amboy UMC and Veterans Home gardens. || Photos provided by Scharmel Roussel

Already established community gardens around North Little Rock show a preview of what’s to come for the Amboy UMC and Veterans Home gardens. || Photos provided by Scharmel Roussel

Thanks to a sizable grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, North Little Rock will be the home of two new community gardens specifically developed for the betterment of veterans who live in the area.

The $30,000 Environmental Justice grant, which was awarded to Arkansas Interfaith Power & Light in 2019, will be used to build a community garden at both the Arkansas State Veterans Home — 2401 John Ashley Dr, North Little Rock, AR — and Amboy United Methodist Church in North Little Rock.

“The grant will be used to help at-risk communities in North Little Rock, concentrating on veterans and their families, but also the community in general,” said Scharmel Roussel, the former executive director of Arkansas IPL. Before retiring from that position in 2019, Roussel was a key player in writing and securing the grant from the EPA.

Interfaith Power and Light is a national organization that looks at environmental issues from a faith-based, stewardship perspective. Arkansas’s affiliate organization has been around for about a decade, Roussel said.

Roussel said that Arkansas IPL’s mission aligns closely with the United Methodist Church’s environmental justice position found in the Social Principles.

“Environmental justice is all about helping low-income people eat lower on the food chain,” she said.

In other words, local, healthy and often plant-based diets.

Roussel said that the decision to choose Amboy United Methodist Church for one of the planned gardens came about in part because of the Rev. Candace Barron, pastor at Amboy, and her connection to the veteran community in Central Arkansas.

“Because this project involved both food and veterans, I jumped on it,” Barron said.

Rev. Barron is a veteran of the Army. She served eight years in the Army; five of those years were active duty and three were in the Army Reserve. Barron said she is passionate about veterans issues and often volunteers at the John L. McClellan Memorial Veterans Hospital in Little Rock as well as the Arkansas State Veterans Home in North Little Rock.

Her background as a U.S. military veteran, as well as her role leading a church, made Amboy a natural fit for the garden.

“Amboy has the space and the willingness to experiment with ideas like this. [The congregation] wants to help in any way that benefits the community and helps feed people,” Barron said.

Although the garden is being developed with veterans in mind, both Roussel and Barron said that it is truly a community garden, and anyone looking for access to fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs can have access to it.

Barron and Roussel are hoping that the people benefiting from the garden’s produce will also be the ones working and tending to the garden. They are also hoping to bring the leftover produce from the gardens to local food pantries, in order to ensure that no part of the garden’s bounty is wasted.

“We are really hoping that this will be an educational piece as well. That this garden will lead to better education on healthy foods and will lead to people starting their own backyard gardens,” Roussel said.

Although the Amboy UMC community garden is still in development, the gardens at the Veterans Home are already in place. Out of the eight homes on the property, two homes have raised bed herb gardens. The grant will allow Arkansas IPL to build more waist-high, raised bed gardens, as well as plant vegetables in addition to the herbs.

Portions of the grant will also go toward providing gardening equipment for the kids at Amboy Elementary School, who recently had some of their gardening supplies stolen. Barron said the kids need gardening tools to work in their school garden, as well as T-shirts that they can wear when gardening to avoid getting their school clothes dirty.

Roussel and Barron hope to see a huge success at the Amboy community garden, which will allow them to add more community gardens in the area. One other place that Arkansas IPL is looking to develop is Gardner Memorial United Methodist Church, of which Rev. Barron is also the pastor.

“This is an awesome opportunity for the church and the community, and we need to take advantage of it,” Barron said.