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Mikaela Taylor, FoodCorps Service Member
A nationwide top producer of asparagus, blueberries, cherries, and dry beans, Michigan is the 2nd most diverse agricultural producer in the nation. Though the state is bountiful in agriculture and water, there is also great need. One in 10 people in Michigan use emergency food programs, and over 57% of public school students receive free or reduced lunches. Northwest Michigan is not immune to this pattern. Though this paints a bleak picture, there is great hope for economic development in our local food systems, with an exemplary example occurring in Northwest Michigan. While we know an integral aspect to sustaining this movement is engaging youth, how exactly is that done?
The farm to school movement has been building for the last 10 years, with its roots established in work done by Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities (formerly Michigan Land Use Institute). Partnering with a nationwide organization known as FoodCorps, Groundwork has been hosting service members that go into the schools to teach nutrition-based lessons, work in school gardens, and promote food service sourcing of local foods since 2011. On September 1, 2015, MSU Extension Grand Traverse County, where I currently serve, began hosting one of the Traverse City-based FoodCorps service members. Now, Groundwork and MSUE are developing a team approach to support farm to school programming in Northwest Michigan, with both Stephanie Cumper, Food Corp Service Member, and I bringing nutrition, garden, and culinary education into Traverse Heights Elementary, Interlochen Elementary, Platte River Elementary and Frankfort Elementary.
Why is this important? I believe that reconnecting youth with the land is integral to creating sustainable, resilient communities. There is power in students knowing where their food comes from, having the ability to grow their own food at school and making choices to support their local food economy. There is also power in offering healthy choices in school cafeterias, where many students consume the majority of their daily calories, in order to ensure access for all individuals regardless of their socioeconomic background and lead to the reduction of diet-related diseases. But we cannot do this alone. We work with a variety of community partners from Cherry Capital Foods, to Farm to Freezer, to PE-NUT and SNAP-Ed Educators, to Master Gardeners and beyond. Everyone plays a part, and it really does take a village to raise a healthy child.
Check out our blog at traversecity.blog.foodcorps.org to keep up-to-date on what’s happening in the schools. Interested in volunteering in school gardens, with taste tests in the cafeteria or with the broader farm to school movement happening in the region? Contact Mikaela Taylor at email@example.com to be added to our volunteer newsletter. We are prepping for spring planting, need to put some seeds in our hoop house and indoor grow spaces, and would love Master Gardener assistance!
by Philip Piletic, Brisbane Tree Experts, Brisbane, Aus
The urban organic gardening movement is being driven by the desire to control what’s in our food and to reduce the time from harvest to plate. It is succeeding on both counts.
When you grow your own vegetables, fruits and herbs, you determine the origin of the soil, seeds or seedlings and what products, if any, are used for fertilizer and pesticide. Certified organic options are available for every step of the growing cycle. By contrast, it is impossible to know exactly what dangerous, synthetic chemicals store-bought produce might have been exposed to.
Produce grown in the US travels an average of 1,500 miles from field to fork. The large percentage grown in the Central Valley of California is trucked more than 2,200 miles to reach Northern Michigan. Food from Central and South America makes an even longer journey.
The “fresh” beans and carrots you walk by in Meijer or the local Spartan store might have been harvested more than a week before. To their credit, many grocery chains are making an effort to offer more locally grown food. Still, with the short growing season in the Midwest, grocery stores will continue to sell long-distance vegetables for much of the year. Most won’t be organic.
Every day that the vegetables in tightly packed crates sit in a warehouse or go bouncing down the interstate in a trailer, they lose what’s important: Taste, quality and nutritional value.
With that in mind, here are a couple of questions: How far does food travel from your backyard garden plot or vertical balcony garden to your kitchen? How long does it take to pick it, rinse off the soil and pop it in your mouth? The difference is dramatic in every way that matters.
Now that we’ve covered the key reasons to grow your own and do it organically, here are the basics you’ll have to address to make it possible.
Choose your Garden Style
Here are the most popular urban garden types with some pros and cons:
- Backyard garden plot: The traditional garden is a great way to go – but many urban dwellers don’t live in housing with a backyard. If you have a yard, choose the location that gets the most sun. You’ll have to watch the space throughout the day since adjacent homes and buildings or big trees so common to this area might produce shade at various times from sun up to sundown.
- Small container gardening: The wonderful thing about containers is that you can start plants in them indoors in late winter or early spring to thumb your nose at the short growing season along the 45th parallel north. Then, they can be moved outdoors in warmer weather. The containers can also be moved periodically to keep them in sunny spots, but frequent repositioning is a time- and labor-intensive method for optimizing photosynthesis.
- Vertical gardening: You get a lot of production for the space with this approach. Common methods include attaching grow boxes to walls, windowsills or fences, building shelving for small containers and a vine and trellis approach.
- Greenhouse gardening: A portable greenhouse can be used in conjunction with any of the methods discussed so far to add weeks to both ends of the growing season.
- Rooftop gardening: Building raised beds on the roof is efficient use of space. The beds cool the building in summer and insulate it against heat loss in the winter. Getting the materials onto the roof and tending the plants is a challenge.
- Hydroponic and aeroponic indoor gardening: This year-round gardening technique requires use of artificial lighting in the dark months, and that will increase your energy costs.
Feed your Plants with Homemade Compost & Organics
Residential garbage is, by weight, about 30 percent organic material. That’s a lot of kitchen scraps that could be turned into food for plants. Even if meat products are excluded, there is still too much organic material going into the waste stream – when it doesn’t have to be waste at all.
This organic compost will feed your plants many of the nutrients they need to be robust and fruitful. Plus, if enough urban dwellers were composting, there would be fewer garbage trucks on the street belching out noise and air pollution!
If there is a need for fertilizer or pesticide, you can have the peace of mind that organic, safe products are available from dependable producers to give your plants the boost or protection required.
Reduce Water Requirements with Mulch
Master gardeners and other enthusiasts know the value of mulch and how to use it. The practices carry over to urban organic gardening to limit water use, save costs, reduce labor and still reap an abundant harvest.
Safe, Delicious and Worth the Effort
Perhaps this primer on organic gardening from an urban perspective will get you thinking about implementing these practices in your own space in Northern Michigan. Even if you’ve got a “back 40” that’s wide open, we think you’ll find small-space gardening to be rewarding, fruitful and fun.
Philip Piletic – Originally from Europe, now situated in Brisbane, AUS where I work & live. I have a strong interest in ecology and generally living a sustainable and responsible lifestyle. I love to share my experience with others by contributing to several blogs and helping others lead healthier lives. This article was brought to you by Brisbane Tree Experts.