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Food garden tour part of justice program to build urban food security

August 19, 2011

More than 30 people joined Our Kitchen Table (OKT) for the 4th Annual Eastown Food Garden Tour the evening of Tuesday August 16. After OKT’s Lisa Oliver King introduced OKT’s Food Diversity Program and community partner, Dr. Clinton Boyd, spoke to resolving lead and arsenic contamination in urban soil, the group began the one and one-half mile trek with stops planned at 14 Eastown neighborhood food gardens.

Many on the tour were amazed to discover the abundance of foods growing in the small front, side and back yards of neighbor’s homes.  Bountiful garden plots, raised beds and recycled containers yield everything from the common tomatoes, herbs, beans and peppers to hops for homebrewed beers, exotics, like figs and kiwi, and berries—strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and even huckleberries.

Many of the gardeners on tour were beginners—though you wouldn’t know it from looking at their gardens. And, many of the gardens showed off plants received as seedlings raised from seed by OKT staff and volunteers.

However, the point of this garden tour was not to showcase local gardeners’ green thumbs. OKT is supporting their efforts as food, i.e. food security and access to healthy foods, is a justice issue. OKT believes access to nutritious whole, organic and fresh foods is every person’s right—not a privilege for those who can afford to shop in upscale grocery stores or eat at trendy restaurants.

Specifically, OKT’s Food Diversity Program targets Grand Rapids neighborhoods hardest hit by asthma and lead poisoning, both of which can be ameliorated by eating fresh, organic fruits and vegetables. Too much of the affordable food widely available in these neighborhoods is over-processed, high in fat, high in sugar and low in nutrients. OKT believes people in need should have more than a full belly—they should have regular access to the whole foods that prevent expensive illnesses like diabetes and heart disease.

The gardens on the tour prove that people can easily and inexpensively grow their own nutritious foods in the urban environment—a fact that the food industry obfuscates with media messages that make growing, canning and preparing food from scratch seem like difficult, time consuming and insurmountable tasks.

In addition to touring gardens at private residences, the tour also made stops at the Eastown Neighborhood Association community garden and  the Barefoot Victory Garden Barefoot Victory Garden. At the latter, any neighborhood resident can pitch in according to ability and take home abundant produce according to need. Instead of personal plots, like those found at traditional community gardens, each raised bed is dedicated to a specific “crop.”

The Barefoot Victory Garden boasts organic, heirloom plant varieties. Heirloom plants are fertile, that is, you can collect seeds from them at the end of the growing season for the next year’s sowing. Most food plants and seeds sold at commercial retail nurseries are “terminator” varieties that are sterile and cannot produce seed (but can increase the seed companies’ profits).

As another part of its justice piece, OKT encourages growers within its program to save their own seeds—a practice deemed illegal by the World Trade Organization (WTO).

As part of its Food Diversity Program, OKT also manages both locations of the Southeast Area Farmers’ Market. The market at the Gerald R. Ford Middle School is open Fridays 2 to 7 p.m.; the market at Garfield Park, Saturdays 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. These smaller markets feature mainly backyard chemical-free growers as vendors and provide ample opportunity for socializing with neighbors.

OKT is sponsoring an Urban Foraging Workshop with The Bloom Collective on September 10 as well as  a fall bicycle tour of urban nut trees and October workshops on building hoop houses to extend the growing season. For information, email

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