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Our Fresh Local envisions community gardens, energy efficient housing

Grand Rapids native Jenny Bongiorno's passion for farming has taken her as far as Costa Rica and back. Her focus now is on improving community life in Grand Rapids through unique community gardens and energy efficient housing.

/Eric Tank

Henry Street Green Grocer Garden

“What makes us different and special is that our design allows us to build on lead and arsenic contaminated soils and on the difficult land that cities often bring including slopes, asphalt and concrete. We do this all while drastically cutting the need for watering, weeding, tilling and fertilizing.”


More information on the Green Grocer Garden and how to participate can be found on the website.

/Eric Tank

/Eric Tank

Our Fresh Local founder Jenny Bongiorno has big plans for the edification of Grand Rapids neighborhoods. She envisions a community that is eager to participate in growing and harvesting its own food. Her farming experience has taken her to Costa Rica and back and now she is prepared to tackle Michigan’s growing season.

Together with her business partner and Toronto native Kegan Kawano, Bongiorno has been on the forefront of safe and healthy urban farming methods. Their innovation story begins with a new model of raised garden beds that is specifically designed for cities.

An example of their patented garden bed can be found on Henry Street just north of Wealthy. The Green Grocer Garden, as it is called, is a working model that has approximately 20 families currently participating. The idea is simple: anyone can sign up to become a member and start harvesting. Produce pricing is available at Our Fresh Local. Available right now is:

  • Swiss Chard
  • Scallions
  • Kale
  • Collard geens
  • Kohlrabi
  • Fennel
  • Basil
  • Zucchini
  • Cucumbers

The Green Grocer Garden also contains a lot of herbs-and they're free to members.

A payment method based on the honor system has been implemented and Bongiorno says it has been running efficiently all summer. Those interested in becoming a member can sign up online here. New members receive a username and password, and a garden tour and orientation with Bongiorno. She has blank paper slips available at the garden station, and all members have to do is record the produce and weigh it using the onsite scale and leave the bill in a locked box. At the end of the month Bongiorno collects the bills and sends an invoice to all the members.

For Bongiorno, however, the uniqueness is not just the membership and payment system. It's something else entirely.

“What makes us different and special is that our [garden bed] design allows us to build on lead and arsenic contaminated soils and on the difficult land that cities often bring including slopes, asphalt and concrete," she says. "We do this all while drastically cutting the need for watering, weeding, tilling and fertilizing.”

Beyond the practical, health conscious, and eco-friendly aspects of Green Grocer Garden lies a personal philosophy that essentially puts people first. Bongiorno believes in an inherent tendency of humans to want to create healthy, vibrant communities that not merely utilize the land but rather respect and nurture it. Her belief is what drives the project.

Bongiorno imagines gardens like hers eventually being on nearly every block in the neighborhoods, close to the individuals or groups that will eventually take responsibility for them.

Her plan is part of a broader picture as well. She and Kawano are also working on another patented design that involves retrofitting houses to achieve a level of energy efficiency that to her knowledge is unprecedented. The goal is to create 100 percent energy efficient housing. Kawano currently runs a working greenhouse in Rockford. Bongiorno’s residence on Fuller Avenue is in the process of remodeling and will serve as a show house featuring the technology as well as an innovative attic greenhouse.

Talking to Bongiorno one gets the impression that her years of farming experience at The Punta Mona Center for Sustainable Living & Education in Costa Rica, a Waldorf Education center in New Hampshire and local Trillium Haven CSA have culminated in a tenacious passion for an agriculturally grounded humanist ethos.

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It has been amazing to watch this project come to fruition, and to have the benefits of the garden at hand during the summer.