By Genine Hopkins
As Review readers may recall, our own Pat Maurer covered a community garden that has “sprouted” up in Farwell, as a component of the Read and Feed program through the Surrey Township Library. What is amazing is that these gardens are popping up everywhere, throughout the county; the latest will be on the Harrison campus of Mid Michigan Community College. On Sunday, May 26, 2013, area businessman Cody Beemer – along with his 3 year old daughter Caralie – donated a load of topsoil to the garden at MMCC.
“I feel this is a really great idea for the community and will do my best to support these gardens,” said Beemer.
At the receiving end was MMCC Instructor Bill Mathews, who teaches Social Sciences at the college. Mathews has been at the forefront of many of the area gardens, beginning with donating his time to begin the Harrison District Library’s Read and Feed program, located across from the library in a lot donated by H & R Block. Mathews was also pictured with Surrey Township Library’s Gina Hamilton last week for the debut of their Read and Feed program, and has been called on to assist with several more gardens in the county – including a Larson Elementary School garden – and even a few outside of the county. On Thursday, May 30, 2013, the Review sent reporters to cover yet another Clare County garden, which will be located in front of the Michigan Works! office on N. Clare Ave in Harrison. Mathews, asked to assist with construction of the raised beds and offer advice on planting, was in attendance, and more about that garden will be in next week’s edition of the Review.
So why the big push to plant gardens? Readers may also recall that for three years running, Clare County was listed as the “unhealthiest” county in the state, according to data collected by the University of Wisconsin. Although the county has slowly risen above dead last, there is still a long way to go in combating the numerous health issues in the area. One of the most blatant both locally and across this country, is the cultural lack of knowledge of how to enjoy and prepare fresh vegetables and fruits. Additionally, those in generational poverty in the U.S. have “food insecurity” on a regular basis, and if the choice is between organic carrots and apples at a high cost per pound, or boxed macaroni and cheese at a much lower cost, there really isn’t much of a choice; they purchase the most calories their money can buy. What this has created is a culture that relies heavily on highly processed foods and has lost their connection to the earth and its bounties. Community gardens help break that cycle by offering for free, a chance for families to expand their food repertoire.
Having to make choices between an empty plate or a plate filled with low cost, highly processed foods is a regular occurrence in many households, and was the big push by DHS Community Resource Coordinator Gretchen Wilbur and The Gathering Pastor Mike Simon and their creation of the Community Nutrition Network, which offers free food commodities but insures that fresh fruits and vegetables are a large component of their distribution. The group offers tips on how to prepare these often unique items – May’s distribution offered plantains – as well as the importance of providing fresh foods in the family diet.
The hope that rides on these gardens is that county health will continue to improve, decreasing the childhood obesity rate and stabilizing blood sugar levels in residents through the elimination of processed foods.
“Kids think better and perform better when the food they eat at home is healthier; the research is quite clear on this. The better students eat overall directly affects their performance on tests, including literacy tests,” states Dr. Paul J. Feugelers, in the results of a University of Alberta study of fifth graders.
That study focused in on the quality and variety of a student’s diet. The more fresh fruits and vegetables, from a variety of sources, and the less fat and processed foods in a student’s diet increased the likelihood that they would be able to learn at a more satisfactory rate.
Unfortunately, the U.S. stands as the unhealthiest developed country, and the social gap in access to healthy foods is growing exponentially. Reducing that gap is at the heart of these community gardens, whether they are part of the Read and Feed program, student led, or whatever incarnation of the garden exists. Although there are slight differences in these programs, in the end, the result is a move to diffuse the culture of fast and processed foods with the importance of growing your own foods. The press release for the MMCC garden is pending, but it will be exciting to see what the goals are and how students will play an active role in assisting the community. But as Beemer stated when he delivered the top soil, these gardens can be nothing but good for the county’s citizens.
The next food distribution for the Community Nutrition Network is Saturday, June 1, 2013, at the Harrison VFW hall, beginning at 11 a.m., until food runs out. Registrants usually arrive around 9 or 10 a.m. If you need seating, please either bring your own chair or a car to wait in until the food is ready for distribution. Also please bring bags, boxes, etc., for food.