When you stop to consider your daily diet, it’s easy to notice how much fresh produce can truly liven up your meals. In the morning, yogurt goes from plain to exciting when sliced strawberries, blueberries and bananas are mixed in. For lunch, salad becomes Instagram-worthy when filled with bright-colored peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and red onions. For dinner, steak garnished with parsley accompanied by roasted broccoli and carrots provide the optimal balanced meal.
As mouthwatering as this sounds, the reality for many kids in underserved communities, including those in the Jefferson Mack neighborhood of Detroit, Michigan, is that even a single fruit or vegetable can be hard to incorporate into any meal or access at all. Wolverine Human Services works tirelessly to change that with Core Orchards Detroit.
Wolverine Human Services (WHS), Grosse Pointe Park, MI, supports diverse treatment needs including juvenile delinquency, substance abuse, rehabilitation, foster care placement and more, serving communities in every county in Michigan. WHS has three residential treatment facilities that provide therapeutic intervention for youth that have been in the juvenile justice system or child welfare system and four community-based services campuses serving hundreds of children with hot meals, education, community engagement events, and more.
Across the street from WHS Wolverine Center in Detroit, is their Core Orchards Detroit, an urban green space that increases the kids’ access to fresh, nutritious foods, and encourages healthier lifestyles.
The surrounding neighborhood of Core Orchards Detroit has no grocery store, less than half of the community has access to transportation to a grocery store, and over 50 percent live below the poverty line.
A grant from the United Fresh Start Foundation helped Core Orchards Detroit purchase supplies including seedlings and equipment to get its community garden fully established and functional.
“The garden has been huge for us,” says Amber McNamara, Evaluation and Grants Coordinator for Wolverine Human Services. “Our kids are able to grow their own food, learn about optimal harvesting practices, and once harvested, learn how to cook with the produce to make healthy meals. They’re not only expanding their diets through the community garden, they’re learning lifelong skills.”
The garden also is providing the kids with a strong connection to its community. Residents of the surrounding community visit the garden to help care for the plants alongside the kids, nurturing fresh fruits and vegetables from seed to plate, including tomatoes, snap peas, iceberg lettuce, strawberries, and celery, to name a few. Some children are even experiencing new fruits and vegetables for the first time!
The children were learning about different crops one day in the garden, when one of the kids had spotted a beet for the first time. “I don’t know what to do with this! he exclaimed. “What does it even taste like?” he asked.
The garden has quickly become a stabilizing force for a vulnerable group of kids.
“Our kids are empowered through the garden, and by transforming their diet, they develop a sense of ownership of their health,” Amber points out. “They feel responsible for the success of the crops they grow, and it’s encouraging them to expand their perspective on what a healthy lifestyle means.”
By: Ben Massoud, Communications Manager, United Fresh Produce Association
Interested in applying for a 2019 United Fresh Start Foundation grant? The application process opens this Spring! For more information, contact Kate Olender, Senior Director Health & Wellness, United Fresh Produce Association, at 202-303-3420.