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Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Minor

Allen Neighborhood Center’s Hunter Park GardenHouse- a Hub of Community and Sustainability

Allen Neighborhood Center’s (ANC) Hunter Park GardenHouse sits on Lansing’s east side, equipped with a quaint greenhouse, a community garden, and many rows of produce waiting to either be planted or picked. When you first arrive, you see a shed painted with different kinds of vegetables and flowers, surrounded by various plants. A large greenhouse sits in the middle of the plot of land, filled with even more thriving produce and a work space in the back for workshops and various classes. Egypt Mapes Krohn, head of the GardenHouse, spoke about the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, their commercial incubator kitchen, and other programs created to better the health and wellness of the surrounding community. Students in the SAFS program were engaged, asking questions about the programs and the food system that runs out of ANC. Looking around, the greenhouse is in better shape than many I’ve been in, as they have running water, electricity, and a paved area in the back with tables and chairs. It’s obvious that many hands help make it look this good, as I notice a large box of gloves and many tools for countless volunteers. Egypt comments that she notices many familiar faces, and a large number of the students’ nod, reminiscing back to when they volunteered at the GardenHouse.

Egypt explains the commercial incubator kitchen, a key motivator for a local business to start from. This kitchen is located inside of ANC and is a space where entrepreneurs can begin their food business and only have to rent it out for a small fee. This makes businesses possible for many, as most people do not have the funds to buy a whole commercial kitchen for a start up business. Furthermore, the support from ANC is priceless: many people utilize their marketing and business plan assistance, and they also help with any certifications necessary to run their business. Egypt states that ANC has seen bakeries, caterers, and even a brewery run out of their kitchen. Most of the business are women owned (about 80%) and around 30% are minority owned. This kind of social and community sustainability is crucial to creating a diverse and open-minded community.

View of greehouse from indoors with fresh greens

Another aspect of the GardenHouse that many were eager to ask questions about was the Veggie Box program, which is a multi-grower CSA run through ANC. This program utilizes mainly local growers, all grown in Michigan but predominantly in the Lansing area. Egypt elaborated on the decision to merge ANC’s Veggie Box program with the Garden House’s CSA. Many students were interested in this, as a few have volunteered with the program in the past. She explains that it made more sense to only have one CSA program going at once, and over time the Veggie Box through just the GardenHouse became less popular as the CSA became more popular. Most of the farmers involved in the CSA sell at ANC’s farmers market every Wednesday, and thus they utilized the relationship that they already started with the farmers. I think that this was a good move for ANC, as it consolidated their resources and they now have a chance to focus only on one CSA and to grow it from there. They deliver to a workplace where multiple people order from, making it even easier and more convenient for people to have availability and access to fresh and healthy food. Moreover, they hand pick the farmers that are in the CSA, choosing only farmers who fit their sustainable growing practice standards and food safety measures. The Veggie Box averages out to about 20$ a week, and includes a newsletter with bios on the farmers, healthy recipes, and tips on how to prepare the vegetables in that week’s box. If an individual wants to, they can even add on items such as eggs, meat, coffee, and cheese, making local food even more easily available. They also accept SNAP payments, utilizing economic sustainability to make fresh food available for all people, regardless of socioeconomic status.

ANC’s GardenHouse is full of programs to boost life skills, gardening skills, and youth development. This includes many gardening workshops that teach individuals unique and new lessons about gardening, as well as a Yard Call Service to assist home gardeners in whatever issues may come their way. They offer plant starts for those looking to begin home gardening, of which are grown right in the GardenHouse. However, their various youth programs are what I was particularly interested in, as many children and teens do not grow up eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables and thus are less likely to eat them later in life. They offer two main programs, one being the Take Root Garden Club and the other being Youth Service Corps. These programs teach them about nutrition and fitness education, and offers multiple service-learning projects, including the Edible Park, the Park Cart, the Fruit Tree Project, and the Garden-in-a-Box. These programs all focus on food access, giving both the community and the individuals in the community more access to healthy food.

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ANC’s GardenHouse is a hub for sustainability, focusing in on many aspects of all types, including environmental, social, and economic. The GardenHouse uses no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, and continuously rotates the types of crops that are planted to ensure optimum soil health. Compost is always added to a bed before planting, and anything that can’t be harvested is placed into a compost pile and will later return to the soil after fermentation. The Veggie Box also reuses the boxes that the provide the produce in, and utilizes sustainable materials when packaging, unlike many grocers that wrap their food in plastic material. The Veggie Box and the Farmers Market are both available to SNAP participants, and programs like the Edible Park and Garden-in-a-Box provide free options for locally grown produce. They provide many teaching opportunities for the community, such as the Garden Workshops, Yard Call Service, and the Urban Gardener Certification Program. In everything that ANC does, sustainability is a core value.

The health and wellness of Lansing’s community is the driver for the Hunter Park GardenHouse, and many of the programs they run. ANC has played a crucial role in the now abundant opportunities for local food on Lansing’s east side, including the CSA program, the Farmers Market, and the Edible Park. They narrowed in on community development as well, which is highlighted in their youth programs and teaching programs for those who live on the east side. They act as a “leg up” in many opportunities, helping everything from a single individual or family to a start up business or farmer.

It is not only a hub for food, but a hub for community and neighborhood revival.

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When asked “What is next?” Egypt explained that ANC’s Veggie Box program is on track to grow substantially. It has grown every year, with more farmers and more customers, and they’re likely to see an even larger growth over this year. With such a large amount of people utilizing their commercial incubator kitchen, having seen over 30 businesses, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the use of the kitchen increase as well. It’s a great opportunity for start-ups to begin, especially in a market where the trends tend to be geared towards the rich and the privileged. I think that over time all of their programs will become more popular and will expand, as there is a trend towards locally grown food and food that you can count on from people that you can count on, and ANC provides just that. It is not only a hub for food, but a hub for community and neighborhood revival.

The GardenHouse resembles other urban farms around Lansing, as many focus on using organic practices and sustainable measures. Other farms around the area also use various tactics to make food more affordable for people, including accepting SNAP benefits or creating a tiered paying system for those who live locally. Out of all of the farms, however, ANC’s was the most unique because they are supported by a much larger system with programs that enhance both the neighborhood and individuals. These programs stood out to me as they provided a space for many that the average person would not have access to. They offer people the ability to grow their own food, learn about gardening, food systems, nutrition and types of produce. Not only will these enhance the diet of a single person, but it will begin a trend of healthy eating and sustainable practices for years to come through the many people that are affected by ANC.

As I was leaving ANC’s Hunter Park GardenHouse, I reflected on their position as both a food hub and a community hub. The garden exuded a sense of peace in the morning, as the sun continued to rise and shine on the sprouting plants that many volunteers, interns, and workers put their time and labor into. They continue to be my personal favorite farmers market, and my favorite garden to work at. While they only have about an acre of land, the programs and assistance they provide to the community is unmatched by any farms or food systems that I know of nearby, and it’s incredible to think about the difference they have made in Lansing and in Lansing’s east side specifically. Sometimes farming is not only about the food itself and how its grown, but the kind of impact that the food and its place in the food system make. ANC’s GardenHouse takes this to heart, and it is reflected in how they do business and how they affect all people.