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Home Food  Bok choy and beyond
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Wednesday, December 17,2008

Bok choy and beyond

East Side’s GardenHouse turns winter green

by Joe Torok

 

East Side’s GardenHouse turns winter green
Outside the Hunter Park GardenHouse this week, beads of cold rain
turned a snowy parking lot into slush, but the early winter isn’t doing
much to slow the growth of sunny-weather edibles inside.

The
unique greenhouse on Lansing’s east side is entering its first full
winter pumping out greens, herbs and other foodstuffs at a time when
other gardeners can do little but watch their tools rust.

The
GardenHouse, operated through a partnership between the Allen
Neighborhood Center and the City of Lansing Parks and Recreation
Department, provides a fertile, year-round green space for nearby
residents. Since the garden opened last May, 24 raised beds have been
tended by over 50 gardeners, primarily from established neighborhood
groups such as the Youth Service Corps.

The striking structure
looks like a giant caterpillar crawling along the east side of the
park, which is on Kalamazoo Street just east of Pennsylvania Avenue.

The
greenhouse is open to eastsiders and the general public every afternoon
from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m., when visitors are invited to a cup of tea and
an open forum on gardening.  The front of the greenhouse is reserved as
a gathering space where educational gardening and cooking
demonstrations are performed by staff and volunteers.  

GardenHouse coordinator K'Anna Burton said a primary mission of the venture is to provide quality food to local residents.

"Our
intention is to green the east side — to make this a food hub from the
ground up," Burton said. Getting neighbors to participate regularly is
ideal, but people are encouraged to spend as much or as little time as
they can contributing to the communal effort.

"We would prefer
to have the committed folks, but however food can get out to the
neighborhood, we're willing to support that," Burton said.

Leafy
greens such as bok choy, lettuce, sugar peas, radishes and a variety of
herbs are the greenhouse’s most abundant crops in mid-December. Even a
couple of tomato plants were left to fight their way through the dreary
months as an experiment to see how long they might last. Tomatoes
typically require lots of sunlight, but the large plant in the center
of the GardenHouse is still flowering and producing small fruits. A few
hardy pepper plants died only recently, after an extended growing
season.

When it comes to hands-on gardening, preference is given
to neighborhood residents, but Burton says anyone is welcome.
Occasionally, she even gives tours to out-of-state residents curious to
see how a neighborhood greenhouse is run in a public park.

“A city garden house in a city park is pretty unique to the greater Great Lakes area,” Burton said.

Many
locals are committed green thumbs who harvest regularly, but some visit
because of hardship. "We have families in need who come by and say 'we
just couldn't get enough food this week, do you have anything extra,'
so they'll just personally glean," Burton says.

The Youth
Service Corps, which tends to a number of beds, is building a business
model to supply local restaurants such as Gone Wired Cafe and
Magdalena’s Tea House with fresh produce. But other than that, the
GardenHouse is a strictly non-profit venture.

“There's nothing
commercial,” Burton said. “This is a community effort with preference
to people on the east side and people in need."

Burton relishes
the greenhouse’s special mix of sustenance and community cohesion. She
likes to see neighbors collaborate and sees the cultivation of food as
an activity that builds a strong community.

"Getting folks of
all ages — intergenerational — involved in food, in healthy food,
quality food, and at this point basically free food, has been very,
very exciting to be a part of," she said.

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