Imagine paying the same amount as a bag of frozen vegetables for a season's worth of fresh vegetables. That's exactly what Mary Beth Van Horn and her neighbors are doing, and they have the Ingham County Land Bank to thank.
"When you look at a $1.50 for a packet of green beans that lasts you all winter versus a dollar for a bag for frozen, if not more, there's definitely a cost savings," Van Horn said.
Those savings come from her household plot that's joined by 11 others in the Holmes St. School Community Garden tucked behind DJ's Party Store. The Land Bank provided all the start-up costs and resources, like testing the soil, buying the seeds, and tilling the land. But first these mostly foreclosed properties go through a long process before getting the go-ahead to become a garden.
"The goal of the program is to support and encourage community based beautification and gardening efforts," said Ingham County Land Bank Garden Program Director Melissa Lott. "Not all of our gardens are located in food deserts, but some are. So this is beneficial to have these open spaces for the neighbors to get involved and grow food."
And the food is definitely growing. Van Horn said she didn't know what to do with all of the tomatoes last year. She ended up donating dozens and getting a little creative.
"Every one of my family members including friends and coworkers got a jar of homemade salsa," Van Horn said. "That was their Christmas present, and they loved it."
But Van Horn said the gardens serve a greater purpose than providing fresh produce. According to Neighborhood Watch officials, the Holmes St. garden used to be the property of a home with "questionable activities," including drugs and prostitution. Many residents were happy to see it replaced.
"It's an opportunity for neighbors to get to know one another and to show the rest of the neighborhood and the city that we care," Van Horn said. "It's helped in the sense that we know who our neighbors are, and so if you see somebody who's not from our neighborhood, you're going to be a little more watchful of that."
But some neighbors disagree. Goldy Sapp lives across the street from the garden and works at DJ's Party Store. He said the garden doesn't help everyone.
"They would have been better off if they left the house right there," said Sapp. "I mean, why tear down something to put something in that's not really supporting the neighborhood?"
Lott said they're still working out the kinks of an outreach program to make sure all residents are satisfied with a garden in their neighborhood.
"We want to conduct as much outreach as possible to make sure that the neighbors really are on board with these projects that are happening in their neighborhood," Lott said. "They're the ones that should have a say, and we support that."
Ingham County Land Bank has about 350 vacant properties on the books right now that could become gardens. A dozen gardens are already registered with the Greater Lansing Food Bank to provide donations.
This is the third growing season for the garden program.