Garden projects bring sense of community back to Lansing

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East Lansing Farmer’s Market shoppers found great bargains from local vendors on fancy eggplant, zucchini, gourds and squash.

By Jenny Kalish
Lansing Star staff writer

In lower income cities like Lansing or Detroit, the availability of healthy food is greatly reduced due to the lack of education, resources, and the overpricing of local, organic food. Over the past few years, however, non-profit organizations in Lansing have used health and nutrition initiatives, farmers’ markets, educational events and urban gardening to solve those issues while getting the community excited about growing healthy food locally.

“There’s a lot of convenience stores, liquor stores, and places with snack foods, but the grocery stores are kind of restricted in certain areas of Lansing.” said Carrie Burns, the AmeriCorps Urban Gardens Coordinator for the South Lansing Community Development Association.

The association is one of many non-profit organizations based in Lansing with the goals of providing lower-income families with opportunities to eat healthy local food while educating them about gardening and nutrition. There are approximately 84 community gardens in Lansing and surrounding areas, four of which were created by the SLCDA, Burns said.

With the rising popularity of Lansing Farmers’ Markets, community members can buy local, healthy food without compromising their budgets. “I think it’s great,” said Elizabeth Webster, Michigan State University English professor and East Lansing Farmer’s Market volunteer. “Of course, you can get everything you need at the local grocery store, but a farmer’s market is nice because it brings the community together.” This sense of community is even stronger in markets like the East Lansing Farmer’s Market, where the farmers sell their products directly to the customers, or what Webster referred to as a growers’ market.

In all the community gardens created by the association, locals can purchase a 10×10 plot where they can grow whatever they please. Alongside personal plots, there are donation plots where vegetables are harvested and donated to either the South Side Community Kitchen or Salvation Army’s free lunch program. There are also youth gardens where children can learn about gardening and nutrition.

The East Lansing Farmer’s Market manager, Michelle Carlson, agrees that part of the beauty of a farmers’ market is the connection between grower and consumer. “It gives city people in urban areas a chance to talk to farmers about fresh foods,” Carlson said.

Lansing market managers from the Lansing City Market, Allen Street Market, South Lansing and many others often meet with Carlson to discuss specifics on managing techniques, exchange ideas and collaborate on future projects that will benefit the community.

Many members of the Ingham County Parks Department and Health Department have also helped to promote community gardens, said Burns. In fact, the executive director of the South Lansing Community Development Association, Kathy Dunbar, is a member of the Lansing City Council. “I think [Lansing city officials] are just happy to see the parks being used for good things,” Burns said.

For more information on community gardening events, go to www.letsgardenlansing.org

The following map shows community gardens, both big and small, in the greater Lansing area.

http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?msid=214630211895665836231.0004adcf73df42fef59d7&msa=0&ll=42.786331,-84.526749&spn=0.137823,0.311394

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