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Community development that makes the gardens grow


"People should take pride in their community and treat each other with respect," says SaRah, a community gardener and Dwelling Place resident. Dwelling Place, based in Grand Rapids, is a NeighborWorks network member that owns and manages more than 1,100 apartments and homes in 25 housing communities throughout west Michigan.
Photo by Matthew Provoast Photography

SaRah, who lives at Roosevelt Apartments, was one of the first residents to participate in planting during a September volunteer day prior to her complex's community open house. She was quick to volunteer, and the peas she planted during the volunteer event grew strong during the fall months.

With 15 community gardens across Dwelling Place's West Michigan properties, gardening holds a special place in the hearts of residents, especially the residents in the newly renovated Roosevelt Apartments in Muskegon Heights. For more than 80 years, the property had been home to the Theodore Roosevelt Elementary School, which was closed in 2010. Dwelling Place purchased the school in 2016 and converted it into a 50-unit complex, which provides supportive housing for the homeless and affordable housing for people living below 60 percent of the area's median income. It opened in October 2017.

SaRah checks on her plants regularly, adding that participating in the program "makes me feel empowered—to plant something and see it blossom; it reminds me of myself."

According to a report from the National Gardening Association, there was a 29 percent increase in food gardening by people living in urban areas in 2013, up to 9 million from 7 million in 2008. Two million more households also reported participating in community gardening in 2013 than 2008, a 300 percent increase in five years. The national impact of food growth in urban areas aids sustainability efforts, reduces food waste and, ultimately, builds community.

Photo by Matthew Provoast Photography
"Community is not just your neighbors," says SaRah, who also has worked as a volunteer organizer and continues to have strong roots in her volunteer efforts. "My passion for community involvement stems from my mom's work in a food pantry and being raised to care about my community."

Dwelling Place is working to encourage active and engaged resident leadership by creating community gardening opportunities in other Dwelling Place properties. Through gardening, educational workshops, community partnerships, regular meetings and annual events, residents are empowered to take on leadership roles and positively engage with one another. The community gardening organizers hope that the program serves as a catalyst for a healthy, strong and growing community.

SaRah plans to stay involved with the gardens and events happening in her apartment community. The growing group of community gardeners is meeting during the winter months to decide how they want to plant and tend to the gardens for the 2018 season.

The program grew so rapidly that Dwelling Place is hiring a community gardening specialist to expand resident-gardening opportunities.

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