Improving Nutrition Security: Garden to Food Club

November 3, 2022


Narrator: MSU Extension community nutrition instructor Kendra Gibson set in motion a vital partnership in Mason County, Michigan, that enhances healthy food access and nutrition and physical activity education within the community. Through learning opportunities for children and adults, the U Dig It [Community] Garden produces fresh produce that is donated to Lakeshore Food Club, which is a non-profit grocery store for limited resource households. 

The partnership between these two organizations, as well as coaching from MSU Extension, has resulted in policy, system and environmental changes that has provided over 8,000 people with nutrition education, as well as access to locally grown fruits and vegetables, over the past growing season. 

Kendra Gibson: We started having conversations in 2018 about food insecurity and healthy food access in Mason County, which was really exciting. And we launched our conversations into youth programming related to gardening. So we pursued some funding and started small gardens next to Lakeshore Food Club. And we called it Eat a Rainbow. And it was for preschool children using some of the curricula that MSU Extension has for hands-on gardening, nutrition, and physical activity. And it was a huge success. We did that for two years and then we moved out to this larger garden in 2020. 

Sara Bolan: The MSU Extension SNAP-Ed program has really made a huge difference here at the garden. We've participated with the programs and stuff that they run with the children, in addition to helping us put some programs on for the adults, not only at the garden here, but also in our community. 

Kendra Gibson: When families start bringing their children to the garden, many times they start spending time out here and they observe and they listen to what their children are receiving. We provide food tasting during the program and so the children take the recipes home to share with their families. They're excited about what they're making and what they're involved with. 

O'Nealya Gronstal: So MSU Extension has been a vital part of Lakeshore Food Club from its very inception in 2017. We have done cooking classes, pre-COVID. For a while, we had outside of our building, we had the teaching garden that has since moved to U Dig It. We did children's programming, we did the MyPlate training. You'll see MyPlate signage throughout the store. 

Kendra Gibson: I think one of the biggest things that we've impacted in terms of food insecurity in this community from this garden is the education that Sara has given the gardeners coming in in terms of how to plant their garden beds to produce throughout the summer, not just in one planting, but throughout the fall and the spring. And also how we can take the produce, take it to Lakeshore Food Club and make sure it's in good shape, that we pick it at the right time. And that we're also recording what we're taking in. We're starting to weigh the produce. We know what we're producing out of here and how it's being utilized and it's impacting how the Food Club is then putting the produce out so that we have less waste of produce that's coming in. And more variety -- the food that people are wanting and requesting.