Conversations in the Community with Kelly McClelland of Edible Flint

March 21, 2022


Edible Flint

Video Transcript

So let's get started. Welcome everybody to the final 2022 cabin fever conversation episode. Abby and I are here. We are both extension educators with MSU Extension based out of Lansing, Michigan. And cabin fever conversations are centered around lighthearted and casual conversation that will hopefully spark some joy and excitement about gardening, which today and snowy Lansing has, I think much needed. And snowy all over Michigan, much needed, kind of source of joy and enthusiasm. The conversation will be about 30 to 40 minutes, and it will be followed by questions from you all from the audience. If you have any questions, please put them in the Q and A down at the bottom, and they will be directed to Abby and I. And we can ask our guest Kelly, your questions. And also we have ASL interpretation today. Thank you, Lisa so much for being here. If you need live captions, live captions are enabled. You can move them around on your screen or you can hide them if you don't need to use them. I'm using a little carrot icon down at the bottom. So with that, I think I'm going to pass it over to Abby to introduce our speaker today. Thanks so much. So we're thrilled to have our speaker today for the third in our shortened 2022 season. Today we welcome Kelly McClellan from Edible Flint, just about an hour away from us here in Lansing. So thank you so much for being here, Kelly, I know you're the program director at Edible Plant where we're excited to learn more, both about the work that you're doing and how you're growing both community and plants in Flint, Michigan. So I thought just to get started, we can talk about what is bringing you joy this time of year. I know Isabel shared the snow. It's a great time in Mid-Michigan. What's bringing you joy right now? Yeah, thanks so much, Abby. And thanks for having me on this afternoon. I'm really excited to talk with you all. Yes. If you had asked me this question yesterday, I would have said, I think the snow is finally done and then woke up this morning. And we've got a few inches here in Flint. So I think what's bringing me joy to things, my house plants because they are green and they are growing. And then also conversations like these, talking with our Edible Flint volunteers and other community gardeners about what we're planning to grow this spring and summer and how we're planning to work together and share good food for the community. Yeah, I love that. I think this is the time of year when a lot of people start to get excited for the hopes and dreams of their garden of the summer, right? You can kinda forget about the the errors of years past or what went wrong and have that blank slate to start with. So it's an exciting time for sure. Definitely, yeah, lots of dreaming and lots of seed catalog looking... looking through seed catalogs. Yeah. I was totally in the same boat to like us " SPRING is here!" And I was like, "Oh, I'm just kidding... it's Michigan." So Kelly could you tell us a little bit about the origin of Edible Flint? Yeah. So Edible Flint is a non-profit organization here in Flint and we have been around since 2009, so I have not been involved with edible Flint since 2009. I've been involved for about the last four years. But Edible Flint really started with community members, gardeners, farmers, people interested in local food in Flint, coming together and wanting to connect with each other on things like productive use of Flint's vacant land, access to resources to support gardening and food production, healthy food access and then also connection to each other. So Edible Flint's mission is to support community residents in growing and accessing healthy food in order to reconnect with the land and each other. So we see kind of like the, the technical parts of gardening and growing food as just to, just as important as the people side of food and food access. So yeah, that's a little bit about the origins of Edible Flint. And definitely want to shout out to the folks in the organizations that started this organization that came up with that mission because I think it really has guided our work the past 12, 13 years and continues to be really relevant today. Yeah, that's a very, it's a very bold mission, but I also think it's such an admirable one to not just think about, you know, the production and how to create as much food as possible, but also how to create relationships and connections and place-making and community. So I know you shared kind of that original vision. How has it evolved to be what it is today and what is it today? What is what is kind of like the primary program areas? Yeah. Great question. So so yeah, over the past 12, 13 years, a lot has changed. A lot of programs have been created and most of those programs still exist today. So some of our key programs include our garden kits, which we provide every year. So they are just going on sale this week and our online orders open next week. So Flint folks, if you're on the call, I hope you're considering purchasing one of our garden kits. And those kits include all the seeds, all the transplants, and tons of information, kind of a how to guide on how to grow a garden, whether it's in your backyard, whether it's a community garden or a church garden. We provide those every year. And over the past few years, a lot of our programming has focused on our educational farm. So about three years ago, Edible Flint was really generously gifted. An urban farm space just south of downtown Flint. So we have named it the Edible Flint Educational Farm and have worked really over the past two years to bring it up to producing a lot of really fantastic food, relying on our volunteers. And this year our focus at the farm is on education. So we've got a whole series of workshops and lunch and learns and kids programming, as well as just informal times for people to come be in the space, see what we're growing. So the farm has definitely become a larger part of, of what we do. Then kind of getting at the connecting people to each other piece, Edible Flint has hosted a food garden tour. I've I think there's been 10 or 11 of them. We didn't have food garden to her in 2020 and 2021 because of COVID. But we are working to bring that back in 2022, which I'm really excited about. And so that is where we gather people and either take buses or convoy of bikes throughout the city to visit different gardens and show different types of food production in the city. So really kind of just a celebration and a time to connect and share successes and maybe share challenges too. So I could go on and on about all our programming. But that's, that's the summary of it. Thanks. It's I think it's really special to have that farm and that gathering space and sort of like the hub and a place for people to kind of gather and learn. So why do you think the work that you all do is important and how does it serve the community? Yeah, great question. So the work of Edible Flint really largely supports a strong local food system. And that involves everyone from the person who's growing tomato in their backyard to put on their burger or whatever. To an urban farmer, to someone who's doing a little larger scale production. So we really focus on the backyard gardeners, the community gardeners and those people maybe taking the first steps into selling what they're growing. But the work is important because it helps support a source of healthy food and fresh food and locally grown food in Flint which has always been kind of a desire. And we haven't always had the, the supply to keep up with the people who want that amount of locally grown food in the city. One thing I mentioned when I was talking about the origins of Edible Flint, was talking about land use. So similar to some other urban areas in Flint, or in Michigan. Flint has a lot of vacant land where there were once homes or businesses or industrial sites. And Edible Flint works with a lot of groups to turn some of that vacant land into productive space for growing food. And there are a whole set of challenges that come along with that. I'm sure a lot of you are familiar with potential soil contaminants and needing a source of safe and fresh water. And so those are some things that we kind of walk people through and provide resources on, is how to turn that vacant land that is really abundant in the city of Flint. Into an abundance of fresh local food. Yeah, it's really interesting to think of all the unique things about Flint and how this kinda fits into all of those. I know you mentioned, you know, the water crisis I know that was a lot of emphasis on community gardening and access to fresh fruits and vegetables. And then even just seeing what's happened over the last couple of years. I know we've seen in Lansing the interest in gardening has increased so much. The interest in being a little bit more self-reliant and ability, and ability to kind of supplement foods that we are getting elsewhere before it has just increased so much. So always interesting to think about the unique. Aspects of a place that cause programming to develop, right? And I think for those of us, on our call board who are in different areas, It's whenever you're thinking about starting programs like this, it's so helpful to think about what are assets locally. I know in Lansing, we similarly have the asset of vacant land and a lot of which is in floodplains, which is not necessarily great for building, right? So what are those unique local features that make a program like this successful and help shape it. So that's cool. So can you tell us a little bit about both, maybe like how the community interacts with the organization. Uh, you know, you've shared a little bit about that, but also I'm curious how that impacts what ya'll grow and how that kind of like how they are able to inform the growth of the farm. Yeah. So one of the, my favorite things about Edible Flint is that our all of our programming, all of the work that we do is planned and led by community work groups. And so and that was that's been since the beginning of Edible Flint to now. So just kind of structurally, you know, I am our one full-time employee and then everything else that we do, it happens because of Americorp service members and volunteers and community partners and our rock star Leadership Board. And so that means that anyone can have a say in how our programming goes and Anyone can have a say in what we're growing at the farm, which I think is, is a fantastic asset that edible Flint has. And I kind of see my job as making sure that every work group has what they need to do, what they want to do. Both kind of the, the tools and the connections and the resources. And so folks who are in Flint and Genesee County are welcome to join any of our work groups. So our work groups are really specific to our programming. And then we have a few work groups that focus on kind of like a structure and organization of Edible Flint, you know, as an organization. And so on our website, I hope that all of you will visit Edible now or after this conversation. There's a breakdown of all of our work groups, what they do, who's kind of the leader of that. And a great place to start if you want to get involved, but you're not quite sure and you're in Flint or Genesee County, is we offer a monthly what we call our networking meeting, which is really just kind of a time for gardeners to gather. We've been meeting on Zoom over the winter and problem. Our meeting will be on Zoom in March, but I'm hoping in April we can be out at the farm. There won't be three inches of snow on the ground. But that's a great place to come to learn what all the work groups are doing. Kind of see where your interests and expertise might fit in. And it's also no commitment required. You could come to one network meeting. Really like what you hear, but decide, you know, I don't have time for this and that's totally fine. And so so yeah, I think keeping that community involvement and community leadership in all of our work has been a really big strength of Edible Flint since it was founded so many years ago. Yeah, I think kind of having the community define its needs and then trying to meet those needs as is really important. So let's talk a little bit about the farm. If that's okay. What kind of things do you all grow? And I'm particularly interested if you grow any sort of perennial food crops, or is it mostly just veggies? And you could tell us a bit more about that. Yeah, definitely. So right now, it's mostly veggies, although we have plans to hopefully do some more edible perennials in the future, we've got a few Berry bushes. We put in some strawberry plants last year and we have, what I call our too sad cherry trees as well So that's on the list for this year's few that. But what we really focus on showcasing is how you can grow food at all different levels of kinda of how much space you have, the tools you have, the time that you have. So this year we're going to be showcasing everything from how to grow and containers and pots. We're gonna do some cold frame demonstrations, which I'm really excited about. We're going to do some container gardening. That could be translated to someone who has a back patio. That's the space that they can use to garden and grow food. Then we show kind of your traditional in the ground garden at different sizes. We have a whole section of raised beds. We also have two hoop houses. And in our hoop houses, we show... one of our hoop houses this year is going to be more focused on, on the educational piece. So wide paths and kind of further spaced plants so people can really get up close and kind of see, okay, here's how we staked our tomatoes. And this is what it looks like up close without being right on top of another tomato plant or something like that. But we're also going to, in our other hoop house, showcase. You know, the tighter rows, the more... more intensive planting, if you will, that someone who like I said, is taking those first steps into maybe selling what they grow, where are trying to grow at a higher volume, can kind of see what that will look like. So the whole point of our, of our farm is for for people to come and experience and explore and then take some pieces back to, to their home or community garden. So in terms of the plants that we grow, it's really a variety. And we, like I said, work with our farm work group as well as our larger Edible Flint community to determine what we grow. So last year we grew okra and one of our hoop houses, and that was a hot commodity. We had people coming by wanting to know the next time we'd be harvesting okra. And so this year we're planting more. We also learned last year that we had way too many tomato plants. We went a little wild with varieties of tomato plants last year So we're going to pare that back a little bit. We also have grown some different types of winter squashes. So we had one last year, I think it was called a pink banana squash that I had never grown before. And it grew, it was like this big, it was humungous. We couldn't talk about education and learning. We had to do some learning to figure out when is the squash ripe and when should we pick it. But that squash and a lot of the other winter squash that we grew, were part of our vegetable soup that we had at our fall harvest festival last year shares, which was delicious. So another exciting thing I want to share about the farm is that we're adding a children's garden space this year. So really focusing on plants that are colorful and maybe fun flavors and textures and smell amazing. And a place where when kids and families come to the garden that can be their first stop to really experience and learn where food comes from. It's so funny to think about the things that you expect people to want from a garden and then say get that feedback right? Like okra, I feel like I've heard from a couple of people is so in demand because they just don't find it locally very often. And it goes real quick. And then I think we all have the narrative of like, there's no such thing as too much tomato . But when it comes down to having to process hundreds and hundreds of pounds of tomatoes, it can very quickly be a thing of of too much tomatoes. Definitely, Definitely, Yeah. And one thing that we try really hard to do is when people come to us with those things like okra, or some different herbs and things. And they say, Hey, I'm having a hard time finding this the market or at the grocery store. We do our best to find those seeds and those plants and grow them so that we can be that, that local source of food that's in demand. what's the most unique herb or crop or plant, that you've started growing in response to community demand. Oh, that's a good question. is there any herb that we may not be super familiar with there? Something fun. We grew last year with stevia. And I don't know that that was super in response to like community demand, but just because we wanted to see how it would grow and it's a fascinating plant, Used as a sugar substitute. And so anytime I would have kids or come out to the farm, We'd walk over there and be like, Okay, Tastes this leaf and let me know what you think. So Stevia, we tried our hand at growing ginger and one of our hoop houses last year and it went alright. And what else, what else? Ginger is a hard one and our northern climate, I know a couple of small farmers in Michigan that I've tried their hand at it and keep doing it because it's unique, but it's definitely not the most efficient use of space in Michigan. Yeah, yeah, we did. Something that we incorporate it into our garden kit last year was a pepper pack. So we worked with the Latinx technology and community center here in Flint to identify some peppers that were in demand. And so we demonstrated growing those at the farm and also offered those peppers for sale in our garden kits. And that it will be offered again this year, which is really exciting. So I have a question. If people want to come visit the farm and how do they go about doing that? Definitely. So the best way that we would invite you to visit the farm would be to volunteer. And we have volunteer days that will begin in mid April. I think we're looking at starting those April 12th this year. And we are out there on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. all throughout the growing season for mid April to late October. But we would ask that you connect with us before you come out. So there's a simple volunteer sign up on our web page. So if you have computer access and are comfortable with that, then you can sign up right there and we will add you to our our list of volunteers. You can also give us a call. We'll share out our phone number at the end of this and we will get you signed up and, and connect with you. We've been really lucky to have a fantastic group of Master Gardener volunteers as kind of like our core. farm volunteers and they're just a great group to be a part of. So volunteering is one option to visit the farm. We also have events throughout the season and we're almost ready to share our full calendar of workshops and classes and things for the summer. So we'll have a series of lunch and learns will have a series of workshops on Saturday afternoons. And I'm really excited for our fall harvest festival. That'll be in October, which we did last year, and we have plans to make it bigger and better and more of a community celebrations here. Is that where you eat the soup? That's where we ate the squash soup! Yes. Yes. and it was one of those October days that was like 75-80 degrees. So everyone's like sweating, eating soup. It was yeah. Yeah. So you mentioned the stevia plant that you grew I'm curious. I've never grown Stevia before. So is it something that you found seeds from and started yourself? Where did you have to go find plants somewhere? Because I think that's often the interesting (thing) We all think about like what is the most interesting thing I can get my garden and then the Lansing community, we have a lot of immigrant and refugee populations that sometimes somehow find some unique seeds from their home countries, and find a way to grow. in Michigan's climate, which I'm always impressed by. But I'm always curious about the origins of some of those things that were not used to seeing. Yeah. Yeah. Great question. So wait, the Stevia I know we got some transplants from one of the local nurseries that we worked with to to supply our garden kits. I also think and I'm not sure Ginny one of our farm volunteers is on the call. I think she started from some from seed at home as well. So I think we had both transplants and seeds. But I know that it is more difficult to start from seeds and we were able to to source that from one of our local nurseries. Thanks. Yeah. So looking towards the future, I know the organization has shifted and grown so much since you started back in 2009. What do you hope to accomplish? Or what is the, what's the vision for where Edible Flint goes from here? What are you hoping to get back? Yeah, yeah. So I think continuing to work within our mission because it is so relevant and still so the work is still so needed in the community. But a few things we've got on the horizon is expanding our work at the farm and really focusing more on an educational opportunities, engaging more people in the work that we do at the farm. And then also working to kind of be part of the larger network supporting overall urban agriculture and food production in Flint. So we've really kind of focused in, especially in the last year or so since I've been formally in this role, we've really focused on supporting backyard gardeners, community gardeners, and very beginning kind of market gardeners. But there's a whole array of other organizations that we work with to support urban farmers and kind of really robust urban food production in Flint. And then I think the third thing that I'm hoping to strengthen in the future is just continuing to celebrate food and celebrate where food comes from. Celebrate the people who grow our food, even if that's us as an individual and an I really see Edible Flint as a key part of continuing to build a culture in Flint that appreciates and understands and supports locally produced food by our friends and neighbors and community members. Love that! So another question I'm curious about is what kind of you mentioned the one community partner which was Latinx Tech organization. I didn't catch the full Name, but I'm curious how else you've worked with community partners or what are some of the other kind of innovative partnerships that have come out of this work, maybe the unsuspecting community partners. Yeah, great question. So we've got kind of the they're really aligned partners. So our local conservation district, the Flint Fresh Food hub, and we work really closely with. So those are the folks you would expect. Some other partners are kind of just based on proximity. And so there is a new building being built, maybe two or three blocks away from our farm site by Genesee Health System, which is going to be their youth mental health facility with kind of all their youth services. And so we have worked with them and they are planning to open their building, I think, either later this year or early next year, and hoping to work really closely with them. But they were a key partner on our fall harvest festival last year with really connecting with neighbors because they - coming into the neighborhood - that we're kind of already established and they wanted to connect with neighbors and kind of share what that facility was going to be doing and kind of what resources would be there for for community members. So that's one kind of out of the box partnership. And trying to think of any others. We would not be able to do what we do without our AmeriCorps service members. And there's a really strong network of AmeriCorps members serving at all different organizations throughout Flint. And so some really fantastic connections have come through our AmeriCorps members talking with other service members throughout the city to bring programming or bring participants to what we're doing. So yeah, I would highlight those partnerships. So there's a question that came in again about the urban farm. And I know it's, it's Edible Flint but there is curiosity. Do you grow any sort of pollinator plants or native plants? or, you know, anything that's a little bit outside of that edible box. But still, you know, connected. We do and we have plans to grow more. And so one partner who I neglected to mention, but I'm sure you all are familiar with is MSU Extension. And so Barsland, who's behind the scenes on this call, works really closely with us and it's going to help us put in some more pollinator plants and do a native plant workshop at the farm this year, which is really exciting. So we have a small existing space of, of pollinator plants, but we are really excited to expand that. I've heard of that organization to create such a plant. So there was another question that came in from the audience about your gardening kits and how do you choose what goes in there? as well as I know you mentioned early on which I really appreciate the kind of variation and what resources people have access to, right? So not everyone might have a quarter acre community garden where they're participating in. Some people might want to have a couple boxes on their porch or something like that. So do you have variations in your kits or what what do you kinda provide there if you can give us any insight into that? Yeah, that's a great question. So I will direct you to to really dig into all the details, but I'll talk through the highlights right now. So we have, like I said, our community work groups and our