With four days left to make those New Year's resolutions, it's time to throw out all of the leftovers from the season of eating and concentrate on healthy choices.

At BREC's Howell Community Park, volunteers have spent a year learning about healthy eating as they care for the community farm built and maintained by Baton Roots.

"Baton Roots is part of a coalition of Mayor Sharon Weston Broome's healthy city initiative to bring fresh food access to neighborhoods," said Mitchell Provensal, program coordinator of Baton Roots. 

The farm is divided into three parts — a garden of 18 raised garden boxes worked by volunteers who come weekly, a quarter-acre garden in rows used as a youth training program, and a grove of citrus trees. The farm is funded through Healthy BR, the mayor's healthy city initiative, with a three-year grant from Humana and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana. 

Provensal and the volunteers started work on the farm in January during the week of the Martin Luther King holiday. It was part of The Walls project, which works to stimulate the creative arts economy by delivering projects that inspire urban and rural beautification.

"We focus on a different street every year," he said. "This year we targeted Winbourne Avenue, (the location of Howell Park)."  

Volunteers built the 18 garden boxes and filled each one with two feet of good garden soil. 

They first planted the boxes with hot weather crops including tomatoes, eggplant, okra, peppers and roselle hibiscus, a plant used for making tea. Volunteers work in the garden every Wednesday afternoon.

"It's like a demonstration workshop. They are doing the work as they learn about gardening," Provensal said. "The project targets people who want to garden and don't know how or don't have the space."

At the end of the day, the volunteers take home the produce they want. There is a lot of sharing of recipes during the afternoon.

When the garden boxes were first planted in the spring, most boxes contained just one particular crop, but Provensal later added herbs, marigolds and other plants in the boxes to keep down the pests. He uses very few chemicals and only when necessary, such as the aphid infestation in the turnips. During the summer, high school students installed an irrigation system.

The much larger farm plot is filled with rows and rows of kale, collards, mustard greens, turnips, beets, green onions, radishes, Swiss chard and a few flowers for pollination.

Provensal goes to local high schools encouraging students to sign up for the training program.

"As the students go through the program, we will be hiring some to keep up the garden," he said. "We are looking for those who fall in love with getting dirty." 

Much of the produce from the farm plot is sold to the Red Stick Mobile Farmers Market, a converted school bus that goes through neighborhoods selling fresh vegetables to the residents and providing healthy nutritional education. 

The third part of the farm, the citrus orchard, is grown in partnership with Baton Rouge Green. There are plans for it as well as the rest of the farm to be expanded over the coming growing seasons. 

In the works is a big storage area with a greenhouse and a section for washing the produce. And there are plans to expand the area of service.

"This first year of the farm, we focused on ZIP code 70805, but in the coming year, we will be adding five other ZIP codes," Provensal said.

Find out more about Baton Roots and the Community Farm on Facebook and Instagram.

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