Growing Local Roots

Grants Help Grow Gardens in Kalamazoo

Local community gardens flourish thanks to grants from local non-profits that help residents gain greater access to fresh produce.

By Andrew Prout


Fair Food Matters in Kalamazoo, Mich. joined with the Kalamazoo Community Foundation and the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation to offer grants to 16 local community gardens around Kalamazoo in April 2011.


The grants were to provide money in support of community gardens and to provide supplies to improve the gardens.


 Unlike most of the other community gardens located in Kalamazoo, Parkwood Upjohn Elementary used its grant money to start a garden from the ground up and also a small garden located indoors for continuous growth throughout the year.


“Fair Food Matters was one

of many grants that we used

for constructing the garden,

bulk soil, mulch, sand to

underlay the brick raised beds

and fencing. Seeds and

indoor seedling needs such as

potting soil, grow lights, trays

and a rack allowed second and

third graders to plant the

seedlings and monitor the early

growth, a much richer experience

than purchasing seedlings,”

said Carol Steiner, principal of  Parkwood Upjohn Elementary School.


 The Comstock Community Center used grant funds to purchase, build and plant raised bed gardens.  


“These gardens were used by our senior population because they are far more accessible than gardens directly on the ground. They’re also less worked because the soil does not have the weed issues.  Fresh vegetables were made available to any senior who wanted them,” said Mary Gustas, executive director of the Comstock Community Center.


 So how did these gardens get picked by Fair Food Matters to receive grants and how long has Fair Food Matters been offering grants?


“For two years, the Kalamazoo Community Foundation awarded grants to area community gardens and directed the funds through our organization. This year, for the first time, the foundation allowed us to select those recipients. We funded 16 community garden projects using funds from three foundation grants,” said Paul Stermer, executive director of Fair Food Matters.


 The criterion for who receives grants is mostly determined by the Kalamazoo Community Foundation.


“Projects must be community gardens located within Kalamazoo County. The focus of the program is to provide healthy, fresh food to neighbors and friends; to encourage physical activity by maintaining a community garden; and to strengthen neighborhoods by sharing work, food and fellowship,” Stermer said.


The grants proved useful for many of the 16 community gardens because of the severity and timing of Michigan’s weather this year. Having the extra money available allowed community gardens to work more quickly before winter hit.


“The granting agencies allowed the garden to be constructed and planted within a one-school-year time span. Without the grant, a scaled back demonstration garden might have taken two years or we may not have been able to gather enough dollars to do the project at all,” Steiner said.


With the overall success of this year’s grants, Fair Food Matters plans on providing as many grants, if not more, for next year.


 “Yes, we and our funders are committed to the idea of building neighborhoods and creating community through gardens. We definitely plan to do this again next year, and as long as there's a need,” Stermer said.


The community gardens that received the grants are also hoping to receive grants again next year and have a lot of ideas if they received them.


“We will expand the number of raised boxes as well as invest in some nutrients for the soil. We also want to reach out to a group of senior residents with garden space,” said Cheri Bales, founder of a community garden in Kalamazoo and coordinator of marketing and communications for the College of Arts and Sciences at Western Michigan University.


 “This year, the garden provided all its members with plentiful peas, tomatoes, brussels sprouts, potatoes, broccoli and greens,” Bales said. “Many of these plants we received as a donation from Fair Food Matters distributed at the garden across from old Kalamazoo Central High School, so we will try to purchase higher-quality or younger plants this year. We also are harvesting seeds from this year's plants to use in next year's planting.”


For more information about Fair Food Matters visit and for a complete list of community gardens that received the grants visit ded_g.html.





Photo Courtesy of Fair Food Matters