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OKT hosts a “How to Plant a Garden” workshop

April 19, 2010

(This article was submitted by Christy Mello, who is a member of OKT.)

Twenty people stood in near 40-degree weather for almost two hours on Saturday morning in order to learn “How to Plant a Food Garden.”  This workshop was hosted by Our Kitchen Table (OKT) and took place at the Barefoot Victory Garden located at 1350 Wealthy Street.

A group of nearby residents have built twenty nine raised beds for this community garden, which is open for anyone who wants to plant, tend to it, hang out, join in on the soon to be scheduled activities, and—best of all—feast on the harvest regardless if you worked in the garden.  Unlike other community gardens, it is not segregated into individual plots but is open to all including those who cannot afford fresh produce.  Both of these groups collaborated on this event due to their expressed desire to create a community/social network of people to share and grow local food.  This workshop is one of a series of OKT’s Food Diversity Project’ (FDP) activities.

OKT is a grassroots advocacy group determined to achieve food, social, and environmental justice for low-income earners, especially women with children, in Grand Rapids, MI.  Food justice is the fundamental principle guiding the FDP in which OKT challenges the systemic causes of food insecurity: a lack of access to fresh and affordable food.  As Lisa Oliver King, the founding organizer of OKT, announced this past Saturday morning, “food is a right for everyone!”  The FDP is an alternative to charitable food donations, and encourages neighborhood residents to produce and share their own bio-diversely grown food either from their backyard or community garden.

The “How to Plant a Food Garden” workshop addressed many components of gardening while speaking to environmental and food justice.  The attendees included novice and experienced gardeners who traded gardening tips.  Everyone had the opportunity to ask a series of questions that predominantly were about composting, what to plant where, and where to find—at no cost—resources for their gardens such as expertise, compost, and seeds.

Clinton Boyd, a biochemist of the Sustainable Research Group, has worked closely with OKT over the last few years around issues of lead poisoning and asthma.  He discussed how gardening is related to environmental health issues.  For instance, he reported that second to Detroit, Grand Rapids has the highest rates of lead poisoning in the state. Residents living in the more impoverished areas of Southeast Grand Rapids, especially children, suffer from disparate rates of lead poisoning compared to the rest of Kent County.  Thus, one does not want to exasperate this problem by growing food in soil with high levels of lead.  For this reason, OKT provides resources, such as Clinton, to encourage gardeners to get their soil tested for lead as well as educate people around facts including which plants are less susceptible to lead contamination.

Raised beds are a method for avoiding high levels of lead.  Commonly people use compost in their beds though as Clinton pointed out, you have to know what is in it since there is hardly any state or federal laws regulating companies to test their compost for toxins.  For instance, he described how much compost in Michigan comes from cow and chicken feces.  However, the Food and Drug Administration allows a certain level of arsenic to be used in chicken feed.  Therefore, when it comes time to process chickens, their feathers easily fall out due to arsenic poisoning.  This is more convenient and less expensive for farmers who are often owned by and mass-produce—with destructive environmental and health practices—for a particular company.  As a result, your compost may have high levels of arsenic.  As you may know, arsenic is a major component of rat poison.

At the heart of industrial agriculture is this type of quick and convenient production of our food that results in larger profit margins at the expense of our health, the humane treatment of animals, and the environment.  For this reason, OKT provides education and resources around less costly and sustainable practices in order for food insecure (and secure) community members to not depend on agribusinesses and the charitable efforts of those who provide the unhealthy food directly linked to high rates of diabetes and obesity.

Last year’s and soon to be this year’s activities educate about as well as address these issues.  These events include food garden tours, seed saving, food canning, communal cooking, and educational workshops like the one at Barefoot Victory Garden on “How to grow your own food.”

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