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Innovators

Jenny Bongiorno,  OurFreshLocal.

Jenny Bongiorno,  OurFreshLocal.

Jenny Bongiorno,  OurFreshLocal.

Jenny Bongiorno,  OurFreshLocal.

Project

Green Grocer Garden

Henry Avenue
Wealthy Street
Grand Rapids, Michigan 49506

Jenny Bongiorno

Jenny Bongiorno wants to see dirt on your supermarket floor, and she wants you to feel good about it.

The Green Grocer Garden Bongiorno runs with OurFreshLocal is a fully-maintained garden, sustaining organic crops grown from seed, where “shoppers” trade the produce aisle for rows of vegetables and herbs they pick themselves. The Green Grocer Garden provides its shoppers with chemical free, super fresh, nutrient dense produce for the same price or cheaper than you'd pay for regular supermarket veggies. Membership in the garden is free and works on a pay-as-you-go system.

“Food is fundamental to our well-being, economy, and environment,” Bongiorno said. “At OurFreshLocal, we enable healthier individuals and communities by growing convenient, organic, and nutrient dense food right in their neighborhood.”

Attesting to taste and nutrition, visitors to the Henry Ave. Green Grocer Garden can viably pick their produce just before a meal, walk it home and, after cooking, eat the tastiest food in under one hour, with no nutrients lost during transportation and storage.

Bongiorno walks every new member through a harvest orientation, familiarizes them with the garden, and teaches what crops will be available throughout the season. And not only does the local food grown there strengthen local bodies, the micro economy feels a boost, too.

“By growing produce within 10 minutes of the kitchen, community members enjoy the taste and nutrition of food that is eaten at the peak of freshness.”  Bongiorno said. “Picking your own food brings a close connection to food, place, and time spent outside with nature.  This is called biophilia and it's good for the soul.”

And being able to enjoy the well-being and health that comes through naturally grown foods requires that people have access, both geographically and financially, to those foods.

“By growing so near to homes, access is universal and food can go from ground to plate in under an hour,” Bongiorno said. “This proximity eliminates the costs of spoilage, transport, refrigeration, warehousing, and packaging.  Without these steps, vegetable varieties can be selected for taste and nutrition rather than shelf life and transportation durability.”
 
Adding affordability to consumers, OurFreshLocal's growing systems largely eliminate the costs and inconveniences of tilling, weeding, watering and fertilizing while also minimizing installation costs. Bongiorno said these steps are purposefully cut out of the food supply chain, therefore avoiding the carbon emissions that come from them. Tilling, watering, pesticide application and transportation are forgone at Our Fresh Local, but the environmental benefit goes further.

“We not only reduce emissions, but start going carbon negative by sequestering carbon in our long-life wood bed frames and by using biochar in our soil,” Bongiorno said.

The project is scalable to other cities, too. The patented raised bed technology at the Henry Ave. garden is designed for the difficult-to-cultivate land in cities.

“The beds can be installed and safely grow food on lots with lead and arsenic pollution or that are covered in concrete or asphalt,” Bongiorno said. “The design captures all water that falls on the site, stores it and wicks it up to the plants.”

There are also educational plans in place to empower others to install and manage the beds and to harvest and cook the food.

OurFreshLocal has been growing in several ways thanks to “technology, education and passionate people,” Bongiorno said. One such person, Bongiorno’s business partner, Toronto-based Kegan Kawano, has helped further the reach of the organization by designing homes retrofitted with highly energy-efficient appliances and attic greenhouses for food and insulation.

Bongiorno has cultivated her team from all over, but they all share a true passion of local food. And with the hard work she’s already put into OurFreshLocal, the seeds she’s sowing today will grow benefits in other  yard gardens, community lots, and institutions.

Learn more about Jenny and OurFreshLocal at www.ourfreshlocal.com

Matthew Russell is the project editor of UIX Grand Rapids

Photography by Adam Bird


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