It all began with a tiny seed of idea: “What if HAVEN could increase its fresh food supply by creating a garden?” The seed germinated back in February with the creation of the HAVEN Garden Project Committee (HAVEN Staff, The Michigan Young Farmer Coalition, ASK In Your Face and Abundant Succession) and an enthusiastic plan to increase healthy food access for the HAVEN community, train a new young farmer and provide learning opportunities for everyone along the way. Â The idea has grown from a half-acre patch of lawn in the middle of Pontiac into a productive, ecologically dynamic organic garden and learning space. Â The transformation would not have been possible without the passion, hard work and support of our community.
During those early meetings of late winter, we made plans upon plans … budgets, crop rotations, seed and tool orders — but no matter how much planning we did, there have been surprises along the way. All of the surprises were good ones: What should we do with all of our surplus produce? How do we tell the children that it’s time to stop picking raspberries because it’s getting dark and time for bed? How do we organize a group of thirty volunteers? We were able to handle each surprise with finesse and a willingness to be flexible: The surplus was donated to Gleaner’s Food Bank, distributed more widely throughout the HAVEN community and given to volunteers as a “thank you”. The children grew tired on their own from stuffing themselves with fresh organic fruit, making their way to bed without much prodding from their mothers, albeit with new red stains decorating their PJs.
The HAVEN Garden Project has touched many lives, most of all the women and children in residence at the HAVEN Shelter, who have seen and experienced violence that belies any sense of empowerment. The Garden itself came to represent a place of empowerment to the residents, staff, and the young farmers who stewarded the garden all season. HAVEN has taken control of its fresh food supply and now produces much of the fresh vegetables used in each week’s menu plan; take a moment to consider what a feat this is … and it’s organic, to boot! This has been the first year that HAVEN has not had to ration lettuce at each meal; previously it had been too expensive to buy enough to serve at every meal (at conventional prices). Now, the Garden produces so much lettuce that there hasn’t been a single day in spring and fall that the Garden Produce refrigerator doesn’t have a full bin of fresh baby greens! HAVEN’s staff and volunteers have been coordinating “canning days” in the kitchen, teaching residents how to preserve food for winter. And young farmers of the Michigan Young Farmer Coalition have become educators in their own right, training a new young farmer, and continuing to practice their cutting-edge farming techniques (like short-cycle cover cropping experiments and drip irrigation wizardry).
What does it all add up to? How about nearly two tons pounds of organic fruits and vegetables! And that’s not counting all of the summer squash, carrots, beets and greens left to harvest over the next two weeks.
While many of the successes of the Garden Project are quantifiable, the less tangible, little triumphs have been the most delightful and meaningful: Picking “Sun Gold” cherry tomatoes and raspberries with HAVEN resident children, wide-eyed and eager to show their mothers their bounty; residents’ stories of “huge pots” of chili made with heirloom tomatoes picked earlier that day; the children’s coining a new name for kohlrabi — “Avatar vegetable”; quiet moments of respite and healing; and chasing groundhogs from the beds of brassicas. Instances like these confirm that this endeavor is about more than producing food; it’s about creating sustainable community grounded in the values of health, ecology, regeneration, learning and good eating.
Here are some more highlights from the season:
The Michigan Young Farmer Coalition trained a new young farmer, Aaron Kyle, who has become both a skilled agriculturalist and a community leader. We logged over 700 volunteer hours from April through September.Â From our surplus, we were able to donate over 700 pounds of fresh produce to Gleaners Food Bank in Pontiac.Â Residents, staff and volunteers pickled, froze and canned hundreds of pounds of produce to “put up” for the winter.
HAVEN resident children harvested produce from which they prepared a full course meal for the annual “Kid’s Café” in August.
As we near the first frost, exciting plans for the next few years are being made. Next year, we will be installing a huge variety of perennial fruits, berries, herbs and flowers; establishing an orchard; starting mushroom logs; and launching a “mini-grant” micro financing opportunity for young farmers. Â The mini-grant will support the design, installation and purchase of materials for a Children’s Garden. Â For 2012, we plan to install a passive solar hoop house, allowing us to grow produce year round. Â The additions will create more training and employment opportunities, which excites us just as much as the promise of peaches and winter hoop house greens!
On behalf of the HAVEN Garden Project Committee, thank you for your support all season.
If you would like to get involved next season, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or info@Askinyourface.com. If you would like to support the Garden next season, please visit: http://haven.myshopify.com/products/haven-garden-project-donation.
View recent photos of the Haven Garden Project here: http://picasaweb.google.com/alexisbogdanovahanna/HAVEN101010?authkey=Gv1sRgCJyE_7CukKKAWg&feat=email#