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How to grow food successfully: it can't be that hard!

The trick to successful food gardening is simple, and Our Kitchen Table is ready to share it.

/Our Kitchen Table

Southeast Area Farmers Market

3:00 pm - 7:00 pm
Garfield Park
334 Burton SE, Grand Rapids

11:00 am - 3:00 pm

Gerald R Ford Middle School
851 Madison SE, Grand Rapids


/Our Kitchen Table

/Our Kitchen Table

I navigate life by the motto, “It can’t be that hard!” Roast coffee? “It can’t be that hard!” Rewire the electrical? “It can’t be that hard!” Build a deck? “It can’t be that hard!

For safety purposes I like to keep this golden motto locked inside my iron-hard head which more often than not, dishes out difficult situations rather than deli spears. Food gardening is no exception.

“It can’t be that hard!”

Well, yes, it can.

Despite my brain’s unparalleled ability to simplify every task, there’s quite a bit of skill and education involved in growing things successfully. The beginning of the season is always exciting. Your starter plants look verdantly full of potential. You plop them in some pots, or in any neglected space in your yard and let them do their job. As the season treads on weeds begin hosting family reunions in your soil, pests begin mistaking your garden for Old Country Buffet, and for some unknown reason your tomato plant looks more like a pygmy leopard than anything that will ever feed you. It can’t be that hard?

Soil type, acidity, drainage, sun exposure, nutrient balance, heavy metal contamination, hardiness zones... You actually need to know these things. And unfortunately, like tweens, plants have friends and frenemies. Beans and onions won’t even speak to each other. Too bad you assumed they were besties. Finish your Claussen and pout.

Lucky for us frustrated city folk parading as farmers Our Kitchen Table (OKT) wants to help. Our Kitchen Table works primarily with lower income families with children six and under in Baxter, Eastown, Garfield Park, and Southtown. If you don’t meet this target there are still ways you can be involved in their programming. OKT wants to give community members the tools they need to grow food successfully. Their gardening program begins with garden planning classes, then supplies a raised bed, seedlings, compost, and a garden coach to ensure your tomato plant actually feeds you instead of Animorphing.

Lisa Oliver-King, executive director of OKT, sees food justice and community health through a wider scope, regularly joining forces with other community advocates. This is why OKT programming promotes issues like respecting the environment, sustainability, physical activity, community bonding, healthcare, education, female empowerment, and environmental racism.

Some of the free classes they have offered include home beer brewing, fruit winemaking, bicycle tour of fruit and nut trees, preserving/canning, urban foraging, and composting. They also operate the Southeast Area Farmers Market at Gerald R. Ford Middle and Garfield Park which not only accepts EBT, Summer EBT, WIC, Project Fresh, honors Double Up Food Bucks, but will also serve as a site where community members can complete the online DHS application, MI Bridges, for food assistance. This big picture vision hopes to improve wellness in the community through a systemic change in the way we produce and access food locally. This much needed transformation can’t happen unless we get involved, and the ladies at OKT are ready and eager to educate and empower us.

I’ve been gardening for five years. The success of my efforts may be debatable, but nonetheless my knowledge has grown every year and I always have produce to eat. When I decided to attend OKT’s “How to Plan Your Food Garden” intro class I didn’t think I’d learn much new information. I hoped for a refresher and a few new facts, but instead I was served a giant plate of fresh know-how. Much like us wannabe city farmers, gardening resources have a tendency to put the plow before the workhorse. I have no room to judge. If my mom had been more concerned with naming me fittingly rather than passing on her middle name legacy I would be Heather Haphazard Hughesian. But my middle name is Anne, which means maybe my destiny isn’t bound to excessive haste.

The value in OKT’s programming is that it’s very deliberate. Healthy plants come from healthy soil, and healthy people eat food from healthy plants. I now understand the value of cooling your jets and starting from point one, because if you don’t you’ll create much more work for yourself in the long run. Healthy plants are much easier to grow and maintain. Having a successful garden is as simple as taking a little time to learn from those experienced growing in this environment, on this land, and starting from the ground and with help working your way up. That's it.

I can now say with certainty, it’s not that hard.

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