Greater Lansing Food Bank Garden Project Improves Food Access and Strengthens Communities

08/9/2017

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By: Majel Maes, Office & Administrative Coordinator, Greater Lansing Food Bank

 

The Greater Lansing Food Bank (GLFB) Garden Project is dedicated to local efforts to develop a healthier food system in the 7 counties it serves.[1] For the GLFB, a healthy food system means that all community members, including children and the elderly, have easy access to affordable and nutritious food that is produced locally using environmentally sound practices. The Garden Project also aspires to cultivate community connections as families and neighbors garden together, fostering a sense of pride in attractive, well-tended gardens that serve as gathering spaces and nourishing cooperation and a sense of unity.

The Garden Project was started in 1982 by early organizers of the Greater Lansing Food Bank who wanted to create a longer-term solution to the problem of hunger and to promote gardening as a vehicle for community development. Part of the GLFB’s mission is to help those it serves toward self-sufficiency. The Garden Project supports this mission by providing access to land, how-to education, free seeds and plants, tool lending, a networking hub and more so that all community members can have access to fresh healthy food through gardening opportunities.

''One in seven people in Mid-Michigan are at risk of food insecurity. From year to year, about 70-75%  of our gardeners are considered very low income by HUD guidelines. Ninety percent of our gardeners are moderate income or low income. Nearly 80% of surveyed gardeners report that they either regularly do not have enough food to eat, or may have enough food but not always enough fresh produce. By promoting self-reliance, Garden Project enables families to take an active role in improving their own nutritional, economic and social condition.

Starting with just 8 garden sites, Garden Project now supports a network of 125+ community gardens  and 400 home gardens, helping to feed over 8,000 people. Some of the community gardens serve  large refugee populations, others integrate school curricula, some grow for donation to food pantries,  and others are simply neighborhood gathering spaces to grow a stronger community. Children’s  gardens enable youths to experience and appreciate the benefits of growing fresh nutritious  vegetables and working with the soil. Many youth say that they enjoy eating vegetables they have  grown themselves!

In addition to seeds, plants and tools, the program offers canning supplies, educational materials and workshops to all gardeners. The Garden Leader’s Training series provides an interactive opportunity for community members to gain leadership skills, access local resources, network, share and plan for both new and existing community gardening projects.

Gardeners who end up with extra veggies, or simply like to grow for donation, often participate in our Grow-A-Row Program and donate to a local pantry.

Support for the Garden Project comes from public grants and private contributions. More than 40% of its operating funds are raised through in-kind donations of materials and services.

Annual Community Garden Tour

The Annual Community Garden Tour showcases and celebrates the excellent work being done by Garden Project volunteers and gardeners. Established in 2006, it began as a bus tour, visiting numerous gardens in the Greater Lansing Area. Since then, the event has blossomed to a series of 3 tours, offering the option to either walk, bike or bus to different selections of gardens to an average total of 120 participants.''

The walking tour is accomplished in partnership with the Ingham County Land Bank, which collaborates with the Garden Project on developing and maintaining many of the network’s gardens. One of the 2017 bus tour destinations was Webster Garden, which is supported by another Garden Project partner, South Lansing Community Development Association.

The Tour now includes a reception prior to the tour departure, featuring refreshments and a chance to mingle with other gardening enthusiasts. Also, tours now spend more time at each garden, giving attendees a chance to hear the stories of gardeners who give each garden its unique culture. Attendees are often surprised that there are so many gardens tucked away in Lansing’s neighborhoods!

For more than a decade local police have understood the correlation between a community garden being established - often in a vacant lot – and reduction in crime. For example, near the Clifford Park Garden, begun in 2001, reported crimes dropped 70% between 2000 and 2005. To emphasize this benefit, the Lansing Police Department has assigned a bicycle officer to accompany the bike tour and answer questions for the past several years.

The tours are completely free to the public, and include beverages and snacks at the gardens made by the gardeners from their own produce.  Dean Transportation generously provides the bus at no charge. Donations collected at the event go directly towards providing support to the gardens.

 

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Each tour features 4-6 gardens, depending on location and timing. In addition to Webster Garden, the 2017 tours visited these sites:

Slater Park

Feeding Hope Garden

Hunter Park GardenHouse

Averill Woods School & Community Garden

The Southside Community Coalition Garden & Hoophouse

Demonstration Garden

The 2017 tour also visited the Ingham County Land Bank Garden at Prospect, as well as several private gardens supported by the ICLB.

The Garden Project is an important part of GLFB’s mission to alleviate hunger one meal at a time, and create a future where everyone has access to nourishing food. We invite you to come celebrate the next growing season with us in July 2018. You can stay current on the 2018 Annual Community Garden Tour and other initiatives by following the Garden Project’s Facebook page

For more information on how the Greater Lansing Food Bank serves our community, please visit the GLFB web site.

 

All photo credits go to Greater Lansing Food Bank Garden Project.


[1] GLFB serves Ingham, Clinton, Eaton, Shiawassee, Gratiot, Isabella and Clare counties.