Edible Avalon demonstrates community support for 'good food for all'
Photo courtesy of Edible Avalon
If you have food to eat and a place to live, count yourself lucky. According to Avalon Housing: "In Washtenaw County over 4,700 people experience homelessness each year." And "about one-half of these are households with young children."
The nonprofit Avalon Housing provides "permanent supportive services to very low income residents," and, since 2008, among those services have been community gardens fostered through the Edible Avalon program. Starting with just one garden four years ago, Edible Avalon now manages community gardens at 14 of their 20 neighborhood Avalon properties.
Although they also beautify the area, the gardens were initially conceived to "provide fresh organic, produce to tenants." This year, more than 3,200 pounds of produce came from the mostly raised-bed plots. Run by volunteer Kris Kaul, the gardening program also works to "improve health and nutrition outcomes among tenants, build community, increase skill sets, provide leadership opportunities, and empower participants to become more self-reliant and able to build on their successes." There is now a youth component for kids in kindergarten through eighth grade as well, which has been coordinated by Emily Canosa for the past three years.
Canosa says, "Being a part of Edible Avalon is important to me because it provides me this amazing opportunity to connect with incredible people of all ages. I get to play with kids in the garden, eat fresh, homegrown food and travel to local farms and organizations and connect with them too. For me, Edible Avalon is all about community — connecting with people over food and nature."
Canosa helps design activities and workshops around topics like: Veggie Heroes, Garden Bingo, Insect Survey and My Pet Worms. Some of the goals of these activities are to help kids:
• Gain self-confidence and self-respect by producing an important commodity for themselves and others
• Learn about the link between healthy soils, healthy plants and healthy bodies
• Understand the scope of the environmental problems caused by conventional agriculture
• Understand the value of buying locally made food and the costs of long-distance transport
• Gain respect for nature’s complexity and the harm we cause by ignoring how nature works
• Increase their appreciation of the outdoors and gardening
• Be introduced to unfamiliar crops and learn how to grow and prepare (and love) them.
Canosa says she can tell it's having an impact.
"This is going to sound really silly, but I know that the program is impacting the teens when I get a Facebook update that says 'Edible Avalon, so-and-so just changed their profile to one of your pictures.' It's a really small thing, but when I see that I know that they're really proud of their work, and identifying with the garden and one another."
Along with the delicious meal, the real treat of that event is going to be a tour of Chef Alex Young's Cornman Farms on Sept. 22 where visitors will "Visit five stations — vegetables and soil; beehives; chickens and goats; hogs and cattle; and the barn — and find out why certain vegetable varieties are chosen, what organic methods and sustainable practices underpin the farms’ operation, and other ideas that you can use in your own garden. Delicious heirloom tomato varieties will be available for purchase, so bring a bag and take a taste of the farm home with you!"
This dinner is an example of community coming together to help with something none of us can solve alone. Executive Director of the Washtenaw Housing Alliance Julie Steiner writes, "Homelessness is a symptom of a much bigger problem. Our country, our state, and our community have a problem with poverty, and unless we come together with needed resources and political will, we will not solve it."
Now the question is — having the political will. And as Adrienne Rich asked in one of her most beautiful poems "With whom do you believe your lot is cast?"
Kim Bayer is a freelance writer and culinary researcher. Email her at kimbayer at gmail dot com.