By Genine HopkinsMichigan Works! Marketing Coordinator Kelli Nicholas and Career Transition Coordinator Bonnie Smalley don’t take no for an answer, finally realizing their project to connect gardening with their clients. Nicholas began to search for grants and opportunities to have Michigan Works! Region 7B Consortium in Harrison house gardens to promote leadership skills, teamwork skills and entrepreneurship while improving client access to healthy and fresh foods over a year ago; that dream became a reality when MMCC Instructor Bill Mathews came to the site on Thursday, May 30, 2013, to begin helping with construction of raised beds gardens. One load of dirt was donated by Beemer’s Sand and Gravel, which filled the six plots that were created, the first set of many that will adorn the front lawn area of Michigan Works!
On hand volunteering their time to construct and fill the beds were Allyson Berger, Rose Raths, Kurt Hunt, Penny Brackney, Bernie Dorin, James Eller, Paul Roberts, David Cutsinger, Phillip Fisher, Matthew Timm, along with Mathews, who was pleased to find that the crew took right over for him.
“This is one of the first times I’ve been able to stand back and let the volunteers build these beds,” he said, “Usually it is me doing the work. It’s great to see them get so into it, that goes a long way in meeting what we hope to accomplish by putting in gardens.”
Smalley and Nicholas were ecstatic about seeing their vision become a reality. For both women, this is more than just about getting in the paper or putting up gardens, it’s about developing self-sufficiency skills and challenging their clients’ ideas about how good healthy foods taste . The Northern Transformations non-profit that works under the Region 7B Consortium seeks to improve the quality of life for their clients in the 14 counties, and these “food hubs” are one way to accomplish these goals.
“We needed a champion and I believe we found one in Bill,” said Nicholas, “He’s passionate about introducing gardening to those who have never touched soil and I believe we can make a positive mark in our counties by extending this program.”
Mathews is indeed a champion. He and his wife Barb have again donated the wood and other supplies, rounding out to about $600 for the Michigan Works! garden preparation on Thursday, May 30, 2013. He has donated to other area gardens, and the amount he and Barb have contributed is quite extensive.
Cody Beemer, owner of Beemer’s Sand and Gravel, supports these gardens 100 percent. He plans on donating every fourth or fifth load to the area gardens to show that support.
“This kind of movement toward healthy foods that are grown in community gardens should have been happening for years, it’s just great to see the move toward local gardens finally happening.”
Clients will be practicing their literacy skills for these gardens, as they work toward finishing their G.E.D. testing or completing other educational goals. It is part of the move toward Read and Feed programs that educate and support community awareness of foods.
“They’ll investigate seed choices, plant placement and harvesting times through books and the internet, while also looking at how to prepare these foods once they are collected. You can’t teach the skills they’ll learn in books though, and that is the priceless experience they’ll carry with them as they search for full time employment, giving them the confidence that may have been damaged while unemployed,” said Nicholas.
These client volunteers will work with other Read and Feed programs for help if needed, and are allowed to “trade” foods, say if tomatoes take off well but cucumbers stall; they can trade their extra tomatoes to another community garden for those cucumbers. While racking up their community service hours they will provide their families with positive food choices and that is worth its weight in gold for Clare County, perhaps allowing it to rise further in the county health rankings.
The crew of volunteers worked throughout the day, planting donated cucumber and tomato plants from Walraven’s Country Garden Fruit Market, who were glad to make a contribution; Bill & Barb donated the tomato cages for these already growing plants!
“I am truly amazed,” said Mathews, “I work in a field where I get inspired by people’s achievements a lot, but I have not been this moved in awhile!”