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Gardening in the Baxter community

Raised bed gardens may be sprouting up in yards all over the Baxter neighborhood next spring.

The Baxter Community Center gardening program is part of a larger initiative by the USDA to examine disparities in food access and enhance food security in underserved neighborhoods.

The USDA awarded grants to five universities throughout Michigan earlier this year to oversee the initiative and Grand Valley State University (GVSU) was one of them. In turn, GVSU then selected the Baxter Community Center as their partner to implement the program and track how gardens impact family health and food security.

GVSU presented Baxter with a five-year grant to help them promote raised bed gardening and healthier lifestyles throughout the neighborhood. The idea behind the program is that low-income residents with a limited amount of space can still grow their own food -- making healthier eating easier and saving them money.

Danielle Veldman, the Center’s grants and communications coordinator, says one of the reasons GVSU chose Baxter is because of their successful greenhouse program, which she also coordinates. The program began in 2011 after a Health Department food security assessment in 2006 showed the neighborhood to be located in a food desert, a place where there is little access to healthy foods.

The neighborhood that the Baxter Community Center serves is located between Wealthy and Franklin streets on the north and south, and Fuller and Eastern on the east and west. Nearly 34 percent of the almost 1,000 households live well below the poverty line.

The Baxter greenhouse provides area residents with affordable fresh produce that’s distributed through the Center’s Marketplace food bank. Since February, the greenhouse has produced nearly 450 pounds of food.

The greenhouse’s In The Garden program also offers classes on gardening and shares seeds and start-up supplies with the community. This year, 10 raised beds were built and 45 families received almost 1,100 seedlings in 34 varieties.  

A second part of the Greenhouse Initiative is called Around the Table, which teaches families how to eat healthier foods through cooking classes, canning workshops, and more.  

Veldman was already trying to figure out a way to encourage more of the neighborhood’s families to build raised bed gardens when GVSU approached the organization “out of the blue.”

“That’s totally providence,” she says.

Baxter is hosting a community meeting and potluck on Nov. 1 from 6-8 p.m. They plan to share the raised bed garden initiative with the 100 or so people invited to attend. Interested families will meet again later to get started.

Participants in the raised bed garden program will be asked to weigh the food they grow each week and harvest their own seeds for the following year. Baxter will guide the growers on the process and provide low-cost or free materials. Because Baxter buys materials such as soil and wood in bulk, and receives in-kind donations as well, they’re able to pass the savings on to the families.  

Once the beds are installed, staff from Baxter will regularly follow up with the participants to track their success and mentor them if necessary.

The goal of the greenhouse and gardening programs is to give everyone access to fresh, healthy food and the tools needed to lead a healthier lifestyle.

“We just want to promote healthy families and we think gardening is a good start with that,” says Veldman.  
If you want to support Baxter’s greenhouse and gardening programs, here’s how you can get more involved:
-    Visit the Baxter Community Center online to learn more.
-    Volunteer in the greenhouse year round. If you’re a master gardener, Baxter is interested in having you teach a class. Volunteers are also needed to help with canning and cooking seminars. 
-    Donate financially.
-    Donate in-kind goods such as gardening supplies and kitchen items like canning jars by contacting Danielle Veldman.
-    Like Baxter Community Center on Facebook.

Source: Danielle Veldman, Grants & Communications Coordinator and Greenhouse Program Coordinator at Baxter Community Center
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Images provided by Baxter Community Center.
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