New Community Garden at Sauk Trail Pointeby Christine Gliha
The community is growing at Sauk Trail Pointe, a series of two-story apartment units on W. Michigan Ave in Ypsi managed by the Ypsilanti Housing Commission and Deborah Strong Housing. Recently, the community center was updated with a new computer lab and other resources, and a new playground area was built. This year, thanks to the hard work of its residents and the support of a local non-profit, Sauk Trail Pointe embraces the emerging food justice movement by building and maintaining their very own community garden.
Local organizer and Sauk Trail Pointe resident Tanisha Goodgame led the efforts to build the new garden, starting with about a dozen beds, replacing unused lawn space on the east end of the community this spring. Working with local non-profit Growing Hope, organizers held a series of community meetings in 2018 to discuss interest in the garden and form long and short term goals. They plan to keep the site simple for the first few years and focus on cultivating plants that folks living at Sauk Trail Pointe can use for food. Families living at Sauk Trail Pointe make 60% of Area Median Income (AMI) or less which makes them a high-risk population for having limited access to fresh healthy produce.
“Some people don’t have transportation or people to watch their kids,” Tanisha says as we look out at the garden in progress earlier this spring. “We want to try and get all the fresh fruit and vegetables that we can […] so if you’re low on produce you can come in and get these fresh products. […] What is it that we want in our garden? What is it that we need more of? What is the produce that every month you run out of?” With these questions in mind, Tanisha sent out a survey to families living at Sauk Trail Pointe in order to figure out what to grow to make the most effective use of the new garden space. By mid-summer the garden was in full bloom. “We want to expand! This is going to be our trial run,” she says. “In order to have successful produce, and for it to grow, you have to know what you’re doing. So it’s going to take a lot of labor, it’s going to [be] time consuming, and it’s going to take dedication.”
The project provides folks a place to relax, meditate and relieve their stress, and a space for the youth of Sauk Trail Pointe to learn valuable life skills. Tanisha explains: “We wanted to get these kids over here and teach them something natural, something fun and positive to do.” She was inspired to build the garden in her community after seeing the success of Growing Hope’s programs that have worked closely with the youth at Sauk Trail Pointe for the past several years. Growing Hope is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that works throughout Ypsilanti managing the Ypsilanti Farmers Markets, teaching classes on gardening and food preparation and offering assistance to home, school and community gardens. They run a home vegetable garden program that gives free garden beds to low income residents in Ypsilanti. Three times per year they distribute seedlings to these gardens from their urban farm on W. Michigan Ave, next door to Sauk Trail Pointe.
For some background on their programs we contacted Bee Ayer, Program Director / Farm & Garden Manager at Growing Hope:
“Once a week we do free cooking and gardening lessons with the youth at Sauk Trail Pointe, and that’s the Seed to Plate program. […] During the summer, we have the Teen Leadership Program [in which] teens get paid to come [to Growing Hope] and learn about cooking, gardening, nutrition. And then they use those skills and practice them through teaching lessons to younger youth. […] The real precipice of the Teen Program is that we want to work with the teens so that they become leaders in fighting for a more just food system. […] We talk with them about how our food system was designed post-slavery in the US and how things came to be. Everything from: Why is it that school lunches are only $1.10 per meal? Why is it that school lunches are the way they are; why is it that we don’t have a full service grocery store in Ypsilanti? Why is it that USDA programs primarily support growers in white rural areas? What’s at the root of the issues in our current food system and also how do we change it?”
“When I was younger, my Grandma […] had a garden,” Tanisha explains when I ask about her past gardening experiences. “We would be out there […] pulling weeds up, weeding and planting and everything.” Seeing her kids engage with the Seed to Plate program renewed her interest in gardening: “At first I used to be like, ‘no I don’t wanna be out there in that dirt or nothing’ but then I seen my son really liked it, doing it, so I said, ‘well, let me get out here and see.’”
“Prior to Seed to Plate, kids didn’t finish their vegetables, and now they do! They are becoming more open minded.” says Darlene Holiday, a Licensed Social Worker who works as a resource specialist onsite at Sauk Trail Pointe through EMU’s Family Empowerment Program. Darlene has noticed many positive effects that cultivating their own fresh produce has had at Sauk Trail Pointe. She adds, “Communities that suffer the most from food insecurity don’t have gardens.” As Tanisha puts it:“If I could grow this, and it’s helping me, how many more people can it help?”