Garden grants provide healthy fresh food access

Community and school gardens assisted with grants to provide fresh food access to low income families across southeast Michigan.

Michigan State University (MSU) Extension in partnership with the United Way of Southeast Michigan launched their Garden mini-grant program this month and received over 75 garden applications for the $100-500 grants. Kathe Hale, Extension Educator with Macomb MSU Extension and coordinator of the grant program, says she is amazed at the response to the availability of the garden mini grant program. “There are so many wonderful community groups, schools, teachers and non-profit organizations in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties doing all they can to make sure that there is abundant fresh food available to food pantries and low income families. Garden programs will teach gardening skills, grow vegetables and fruits, donate produce to food pantries and provide life lessons in the gardens. The projects plan to use fresh produce to: teach with, to harvest, to offer taste tests in school cafeterias and to provide to neighborhood residents to make sure their food needs are met.” In a time when so many people have reduced incomes or have lost jobs, having fresh garden produce to eat from the local school or community garden breaks down all of the barriers for people to have access to good healthy food.

Many of our parents and grandparents tended to gardens diligently through the summers to have fresh food to harvest. A generation ago, they also thought ahead to preserve it and store it so food would be available to eat all fall and winter long. Today we are finding out how important learning to garden can be. Whether it is a school garden or community garden the benefits are many – science education, life skills education, urban agriculture, farming, providing green spaces and providing fresh, healthy and local food. When people do not have transportation to get to a grocery store that has an array of healthy food to choose from or a farmers market that accepts bridge cards, a garden can provide additional food for months to come to increase health, increase self-reliance and build skills for a lifetime.

Access to good food is an issue that the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems highlights in their Michigan Good Food Report Number 2- Good Food Access for Families and Communities. The report documents the challenges and opportunities that Michigan faces to ensure that ALL people “have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” Michigan’s tough economic times have hit Michigan families hard and have more people living on the edge of food insecurity. Being near a neighborhood garden can provide another source of food when families are hungry.

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