Giving Garden grows, distributes fresh groceries to pantries | meal

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TRAVERSE CITY – Local nonprofit SEEDS Ecology and Education Centers opened their Giving Garden at Historic Barns Park in 2020.

SEEDS Participants in the EcoCorps program cultivate and harvest in the garden. Program Director Jennifer Flynn said they had the space on their farm and the know-how, and the Father Fred Foundation staff wanted more fresh produce for their customers. So they planned the new Giving Garden.

“It saw a need and an interest,” Flynn said. “It’s grown and expanded. Even during COVID they were actively growing things.”

All of the fresh herbs, vegetables and fruits grown in the Giving Garden will be harvested and distributed to families affected by food insecurity across the region, said Elizabeth Dunham, coordinator of SEEDS Outreach.

Last year, Dunham said, the produce was planted and harvested with volunteers from the Father Fred Foundation, SEEDS employees and AmeriCorps VISTA members. In 2021, the second year of the Giving Garden, £1,200 of fresh food was collected and donated to the Father Fred Foundation.

Father Fred Foundation executive director Candice Hamel said the partnership with SEEDS EcoCorps included elevated grow boxes and multiple plots that have produced squash, green beans, peppers, carrots and more.

“The project provides fresh, local and organic produce,” Hamel said. “Fresh produce is typically a favorite of our pantry guests and often one of their most expensive foods. The Giving Garden offers guests the opportunity to select these items without having to worry about current food prices.”

Amical is hosting “Planting the Seeds of Love” to support the SEEDS Giving Garden and the Father Fred Foundation. General Manager Jeffrey Libman said one of their chefs works with SEEDS and wants to help by hosting a benefit dinner on May 19.

“By the May dinner, the garden will not be as thriving as we had hoped,” Libman said. “But we focus on local products and local proteins.”

Guests can choose what to order from the four-course menu.

Libman said they tried to showcase seasonal items like spring produce.

Book a table for two, four or six people on amical.com or via the Resy app. Dinner is USD 100 per person and includes soft drinks and a tip. Cocktails, wine and beer are available at an additional cost.

Twenty-five percent of proceeds go to the Giving Garden for things like materials and soil. Libman said the goal is to raise money so the garden can expand next year.

“We’re really excited about this SEEDS garden,” he said. “There is something in our community that is specific to our community, to help people have better access to products. I want as many people as possible to know about it.”

In addition to dinner, Dunham said, SEEDS plans to provide opportunities for people to learn how to cook, preserve, freeze and ferment produce so donated food doesn’t go to waste.

SEEDS partners with the Crosshatch Center for Art and Ecology and the MSU Extension to host summer schools at Historic Barns Park.

The course of May 26th is about the preservation of herbs. These are open to the public and supported by grants from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Carls Foundation.

Those unable to attend dinner can donate to the Giving Garden at ecoseeds.org/521/giving-garden.

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