Volunteers looked over plots of land at Hill Community Garden last week, cutting down dead vines and preparing beds for the winter.
âI wanted to partner with a local food bank to see what we could do to help the community,â said Smriti Patil, who helped organize the volunteer day at the garden on behalf of the School of Human Resources and Michigan State University Labor Relations. union of graduate students. “After COVID, this is the most direct way to help people.”
Hill Community Garden, located in southern Lansing, is one of several urban farms in the area that produce produce for local pantries.
Recently, two new structures were built on site – a greenhouse and a hoop house – doubling the amount of produce the garden can grow.allowing it to operate all year round.
âIt’s only hundreds of thousands of pounds of food and meals that can fight food insecurity,â said Michelle Lantz, CEO of the Greater Lansing Food Bank, which works with the garden to provide food in local pantries..
The greenhouse alone will have around 140,000 vegetable plants transplanted each year between February and May. This translates to 70,000 to 112,000 pounds of food worth $ 140,000 to 224,000.
The greenhouse, built with a grant from the Ingham County Innovation Fund, will allow local gardeners to start their plants earlier, during the winter months. Gardeners can reserve plots and choose how much food they bring home versus donation.
The 2,880 square foot hoop house, built with the South Lansing Community Development Association with funds from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, is the second hoop house in the garden and will be used exclusively for growing food for donations.
âThe biggest part is that the amount of meals you can generate and put back into the community affects rates of food insecurity,â Lantz said.
People considered to be food insecure are those who do not have access to enough food due to limited financial resources. This includes people who cannot afford healthy food and those who do not have reliable transportation to grocery stores.
Before the pandemic, 13.8% of people in Ingham County were considered food insecure, according to 2019 data from Feeding America, a national nonprofit network of food banks.
When the pandemic hit, food banks knew food insecurity rates would skyrocket due to unemployment, Lantz said. So the Greater Lansing Food Bank got to work, mobilizing volunteers and putting relief funds to work to meet demand.
Over the past 18 months, the number of food insecure people has stabilized, but it is still higher than in 2019. Feeding America’s projections for 2021 estimate that 14.7% of the county’s residents Ingham remain food insecure.
So far in 2021, the Greater Lansing Food Bank has distributed more than 7 million meals in its seven-county service area. That’s an 18% increase from the same time last year, according to food bank data.
The food bank has been able to meet the increased demand with federal relief dollars and volunteers, Lantz said.
“We know that the systems we have in place for the distribution of food are working,” she said.
Hill Community Garden is part of the Greater Lansing Food Bank’s Garden Project, which aims to increase access to food by providing land, hands-on training, seeds, plants and tools for people who wish to grow their own. food.
âIt started as a self-help program based on self-reliance and empowerment,â said Julie Lehman, garden project manager for the Greater Lansing Food Bank. “It really increased the number of people who would be connected, both with the food bank and with their own food, which is so important.”
Increasing local food production helps provide more nutritious meals to food insecure people. Fresh produce is more difficult to move in a food bank because it expires faster. This means that food insecure people do not always have access to nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables.
âGardeners who grow theirs can take it straight to their garden, and there is no time frame,â Lantz said. “It will provide more products – fresher, more nutritious products – to our entire community.”
Contact reporter Elena Durnbaugh at (517) 231-9501 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @ElenaDurnbaugh.