How prevalent do you think homelessness is in America? According to the 2017 Annual Homeless Assessment Report by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, a chronically homeless individual is defined as a person who has a disability who has also been homeless for a period of twelve months within the past three years. In 2017, this group made up 24% of the entire homeless population, 2% more than it did in 2016. Mississippi and Florida are ranked as the third and fourth highest states in the country for the population of unsheltered chronically homeless individuals; Georgia is not far behind them. A 3.6% increase of chronically homeless individuals in small cities and counties occurred in the past year. These are alarming statistics for the rural southeast! 

My name is Allie Ray Marques. I grew up in Livingston, Alabama, a rural town in West Alabama. I attend the University of West Alabama in Livingston, Alabama, and will attain a bachelor’s degree with a major in special education and a minor in early childhood education. I was blessed with the opportunity to become of member of the Black Belt Teacher Corps. This scholarship program requires its members to commit to teach in the black belt region for three years after graduating and complete a service project at a school in need. For my service project, I decided to embrace my roots and center my project around agriculture. In order to combat the growing homeless issue in America, specifically in rural areas, I designed the Sprouting Minds Garden. “Agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals, and happiness.” – Thomas Jefferson. I implemented this program at all four campuses in the Demopolis City School System. Each campus was given three raised garden beds and the supplies needed to go with it, thanks to the support and funding of the Alabama State Department of Education, University of West Alabama, Rural Schools Collaborative, Cemex, Poppies, and United Rentals. Each school additionally received a curriculum guide that I designed in hopes to integrate academic content, increase students’ achievement, and form relationships between parents and Demopolis City Schools. I intend for these gardens to instill a variety of skills and values and spark students’ interest in agriculture while building their character and work ethic. I am currently in the process of publishing curriculum guides for grades two, three, seven, ten, and nine through twelve (extended standards). I plan to create curriculum programs for all grades and ability levels within the next few years. To learn more about the Sprouting Minds Garden implementation process or curriculum programs, email me, or like the Sprouting Minds Garden on Facebook!