Love Community Garden on Being the Change
People's Choice Winner in the Fabulous Food Garden Contest Shares Their Story
Abject poverty, casual neglect, apathy and institutionalized resistance. That’s what faced four people, a mail lady, Jody, a retired gentleman,Bob, a strong-willed woman, Morning, and myself a retired architect turned visual artist, who all decided to find a way to change the very atmosphere of depression in one corner of Muskegon, Michigan. Non-conformists all, unwilling to “color inside the lines” , we asked, “What can we do to help build some sense of community? What is it that we all share in common?” The answer is food; we all need to eat. A garden could sustainably provide food and community.
Love Community Garden (taking its name from Love Fellowship Baptist Church, who owned the property) had its humble beginnings based on that premise. The pastor agrees to allow us to have a garden on his church property even though none of us are members of his church. In the early stages we planted in the ground, which was old land-fill with buried bricks and building debris, which made roto-tilling slow and near-impossible but we prevailed.
Application for a " Healthy Communities" grant to construct raised beds the next season resulted in 5 months of meetings, spread sheets, and lists dictating what we could and could not do. Faced with obstructive rules and conditions, and recognizing that the grant-writing mechanisms of the entrenched local agencies and associations were more of a hindrance than help, we decided to opt out of the cycle in order to become part of the solution and not part of the problem.
Opting out proved to be more difficult than it sounded. It created a barrage of threats, political posturing and even personal attacks. However, our tenacious Morning stood her ground vocalizing our collective frustration, “Get out of our way!” she said, and, insisting that we were an existing viable project before the grant and we would not alter our course nor accept outside control unless all of the gardeners agreed, all the time clutching her list of additional residents she had spent the winter gathering by door knocking to be part of the new grant-funded raised bed approach to gardening.It was imperative that the garden continue as non-faith based project, never be used for political gain and be about the people free of the politics and rules set forth by agencies and associations that only tend to isolate and repel people instead of engaging and aiding them. Last but not least, we felt we needed to resist the official tendency to marginalize neighborhood people by labelliing them. The temptation to use "fashionable" labels may seem "nifty" for writing Masters theses or a grant application; but we view it as damaging and neither productive nor kind. In the end we used some grant money, but our way.
Our burgeoning garden attracted support; besides the Pastor and the Church congregation. Mike, a dynamic businessman and respected member of the Fruitport Lions, after witnessing Morning be more than a little vocal at a City Commissioners meeting, introduced himself. Shortly thereafter, Mike embraced the garden and its intent and with that came more ideas. Followed by more people that wanted to be the change but never knew where to begin. Beds were built, fresh healthy soil delivered, plants grew. The garden acquired a pump and, with a view toward sustainability, had a rain-water collection system designed and installed.
The next season Harvey Linenbottom, a radical rabbit, appeared, abducting the mascot Toad from a local establishment the Tipsy Toad Tavern, and held him for ransom (“…a gazillion dollars, lettuce, candy and some pansies” read the note.) The proprietors of the Tipsy Toad held a fund-raiser to rescue their beloved toad and we had some cash again. Harvey has since mellowed and taken on a more positive role with even a Facebook page and continues to be active in our efforts.
We have sold pot holders, worked festivals flipping burgers and doing puppet shows, sold calendars, made crafts to sell at Farmers markets, served pizza, had concerts, and sold popcorn. By being out and active we have established healthy relationships, creating a viable means for people from all walks of life, all ages, to grow and share healthy food in a fun and social atmosphere.
Our love for our community has grown into a youth program where we provide art classes, karate and hulu hoop classes for our youth. Next season we hope to enhance our programs even more with a trash can drum team and that's just the beginning of being the change.
To view this story, watch the TedX video below.