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Unemployed workers learn to grow their own food

In Ohio, a private college teaches 20 families with unemployed workers how to put food on the table by growing vegetables

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Josh and Mandy Gillis working in their garden with their children Faith and Logan on the campus of Wilmington College in Wilmington, Ohio.

David Kohl/AP

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Many of the new gardeners didn't know how to grow vegetables, and weren't sure what to do with them once they did.

They learned, though, as part of a project by a local college to help a community hard-hit by the recession grow some of its own food.

Wilmington College provided the 20 plots and the guidance in this southwestern Ohio town after DHL Express decided last year to close its operation here, putting most of 8,000 Wilmington Air Park employees out of work. Local unemployment has soared to 15 percent.

Food pantries and other charities reported unprecedented demand, so the school, besides using its agricultural program to raise and donate crops, decided it could have a lasting impact by teaching people to garden.

"It's not about a handout, it's a hand up," says Chris Burns-Dibiasio, whose husband, Daniel, is president of the private college of some 1,700 students. "It's teaching them how to supplement their groceries; it's about building a local food system."

The "Grow Food, Grow Hope" program began in late spring in a grassy lot next to a college parking lot. The 20 initial families were identified with the help of social services agencies.

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