Let the Planting Begin

By Alexander Hirata

Canvasback Missions Inc. shipped 172 EarthBox® planters to Ebeye in December to start community gardens at the hospital and three schools on the island. The community gardens are part of the Kwajalein Diabetes Coalition’s Diak Plan to use education, legislation, individual lifestyle change, and community power to combat the prevalence of diabetes in Kwajalein Atoll. The Coalition brought Canvasback on board when another organization unexpectedly withdrew from the program. Although a simple concept, it took many to bring the project to fruition, and the gardens will have a life-changing impact in the Marshall Islands.

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One of the programs the Diak Plan calls for is a set of community gardens on Ebeye to increase the availability of healthy foods by providing fresh produce while reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes and other chronic non-communicable diseases. The Kwajalein Diabetes Coalition partnered with Canvasback and assigned the organization the task of finding, purchasing, and shipping sub-irrigation planters to Ebeye to start the gardens. Canvasback understands why the Diak Plan calls for gardens, since it sees firsthand the economic and health benefits of the planter gardens at its Diabetes Wellness Center on Majuro, where it grows fresh produce for diabetic patients.

The community garden at the hospital will provide fresh produce to patients. This is crucial for diabetic patients in particular, since high-fiber, low-sugar natural foods are essential to lowering blood-sugar levels and controlling the symptoms of type 2 diabetes. At the schools, students will gain valuable hands-on experience nurturing the gardens, which will simultaneously provide them with healthy and affordable food while teaching them the importance of nutrition and self-sufficiency.

For this program, Canvasback Missions chose to work with EarthBox®, the industry standard for sub-irrigation planters. Each planter has a water reservoir underneath its plants that provides water to the roots slowly, as needed. Since the planter is contained, there is no run-off, reducing soil and fertilizer waste. Sub-irrigation planters are ideal for community gardens on Ebeye, because they are weed-free, water and space efficient, effective regardless of terrain or soil quality, and easily started and maintained by amateur gardeners.

Sterling Spence, Canvasback’s Project Manager, worked with EarthBox® to secure a deal on the planters. At retail price, the planters would have totaled $5,667.40, but Spence secured them for 20% cheaper, saving over $1,000. These savings allowed Canvasback to purchase more planters for Ebeye. In addition to selling at a low cost, EarthBox® also graciously donated the 600 cubic feet of soil necessary to start the gardens. Spence will be on Ebeye in February, assisting with the island’s first Diabetes Intervention Program.

EarthBox® isn’t the only company that believes in this project. Matson Navigation Inc. and Triple J both worked with Canvasback to make this program a reality. Triple J and Matson shipped both the planters and soil to Ebeye for free, enabling Canvasback to purchase even more planters.

The Kwajalein Diabetes Coalition chose to work with Canvasback Missions, and Canvasback worked with Matson, Triple J, and EarthBox® to procure the planters. The gardens they fill will feed and educate thousands on Ebeye, starting with the most vulnerable demographics—the young and the infirm—and spreading to the wider population. Perhaps the finer beauty of the program is that the four yards at schools and the hospital aren’t just called community gardens because they serve the community; it also takes a community to create them.