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Gardens for Grand Rapids partners with Steepletown and continues providing raised garden beds for families experiencing food insecurity in 2019

June 3, 2019

On Friday, the last of the raised garden beds were delivered for 2019. This was the fourth year that Gardens for Grand Rapids has built and delivered raised garden beds, soil and plants for families experiencing food insecurity. Over the four year period, Gardens for Grand Rapids has provided 135 families with raised garden beds.

However, this year was somewhat different, in a good way. This year, Gardens for Grand Rapids partnered with Steepletown Neighborhood Services, specifically their JobStart program. Steepletown applied for a Neighborhood Match Fund grant and was selected to receive the grant in April. The idea that Steepletown had in mind for the Neighborhood Match Fund was to partner with Gardens for Grand Rapids to not only provide 25 families with a raised garden bed, soil and plants, but to provide an opportunity to the young men in the JobStart program to learn some new skills and maybe develop an interest in gardening.

JobStart is a program that provides employment and job skills to young men between 18 – 24 years of age. Many of the young men have been in juvenile detention or jail and have struggled to find or maintain employment. JobStart offers several different areas of  paid work, plus the young men meet daily with the program supervisor, who acts as a mentor to them.

So what we did this year that was different from pervious years of practicing food justice, was to teach the young men how to build the raised beds, help us fill each garden bed with soil and provide tools and plants for each family. During this whole process we had great conversation with the guys about growing food, seeds, plants, how to harvest, how to can/preserve food and why it is that so many people experience food insecurity.

The guys who worked directly with me were genuinely intrigued by the work, the skill building and what other possibilities there might be when it comes to food production. This year also helped to facilitate the practice of food justice outside of a food centered framework. What I mean by that is the fact that this year felt more about offering skill building to the young men in the program, as well as allowing them to imagine the possibilities that food justice can provide to those who have been subject to the prison industrial complex.

In Joshua Sbicca’s book, Food Justice Now: Deepening the Roots of Social Struggle, he talks about the need to incorporate food justice into larger struggles for social change and why we need to have an intersectional approach to these struggles. Sbicca writes:

We call on those in the food movement to recognize the intersections between exploitation of communities via the prison industrial complex and our food system; this recognition is essential to achieve our ultimate liberation. It is critical that we understand that the patterns of domination and exploitation that drive our prison and policing systems are inherently connected with the patterns of domination and exploitation that drive the inequalities within our food system. We who believe in food justice, we who believe in food sovereignty must recognize the need for an abolition of all enslavement and exploitation in order to achieve real justice.

In addition, what made this year’s project so much more exciting, was the fact that this work can provide job opportunities to these young men, increased skill building,  a chance to fight against the carceral state and a chance to practice food justice in order to see how these issues overlap and interact with each other.

Lastly, we are in conversation with Steepletown Neighborhood Services about expanding this work and to increase capacity so as to build upon this year’s experiment. We will keep you informed about what else might come from this partnership.

Food Justice Now!

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