POSTED: Sunday, July 22, 2012 - 6:00am
UPDATED: Sunday, July 22, 2012 - 6:04am
NBC NATIONAL NEWS — A grass-roots effort to change lives is now sweeping across the Deep South.
Communities are taking charge of their health by growing, and preparing their own food.
Mixed-in with the lettuce, carrots, squash and peas, the fruits and vegetables from countless community gardens, there is a growing effort to change lives.
"It's not just growing vegetables, it's growth," says Jacqueline Smith, manager of the Freedom Community Garden. "It's growth of bringing communities together, bringing society together - we're fighting diseases every day, living a good healthy life."
In small towns where local grocers have closed down and convenience stores and fast food chains are all that dot the landscape, living healthy has been a struggle.
The region consistently ranks as one of the highest in obesity for diabetes and hypertension.
Dr. Michael Minor witnessed that first hand through his congregation at Oak Hill Baptist Church in Hernando, Mississippi.
It was in his chapel that Pastor Minor "planted the seeds" for a series of community gardens, cultivating plots of nutrient rich land to grow the fresh fruits and vegetables so many didn't have access to, allowing them to regain control of their health and their lives.
"In the nutshell, it's connecting pastors, lay leaders - really church by church, association by association and getting them involved and then giving them the basic tools to get it done," he says.
Just like the crops they started the idea blossomed, and soon schools, community centers, local and state agencies were involved in the project.
Community garden organizers say the drought and heat in June took a toll on the gardens and fields, but those with irrigation systems in place were largely spared.