The Tribal Health Department collaborated with the local school to build school-based community gardens. The funds allowed us to purchase materials and supplies to build traditional raised bed gardens. We live in a very small community and I think that we had a great start with our new project. It seems as though word of mouth is the best method of advertising in our community and I am certain that each year it will produce more excitement for our garden. We are fortunate in that we have ample space to expand and we also have easy access to water all within a fenced-in area. We used the three-sisters planting method and offered classes and seminars on organic gardening, planting, mulching, harvesting, canning and preserving. The classes offered guidance and encouraged changes and promoted healthy eating. People do not realize that their health affects the entire family. It is not just an individual choice.
The St. Ignace Ministerial Association partnered with our community garden committee. Our community garden committee is made up of community members with the skills and passion for gardening and overseeing the project. Michigan State University Extension and our Food Pantry and Thrift store are also partnering with us to offer guidance and access to healthy food. The project changed the environment at school, as children became aware of planting and what it takes to grow plants. The produce harvested from the gardens were used in our Fall Harvest Feast and prepared traditionally additionally we worked with food pantry to distribute to needy community. We were invited to present at conference on our school gardens.
Our biggest accomplishment is getting the community involved in the garden and educating people about the importance of fresh vegetables. Everything will continue with our motivated partners. The school recently wrote a new grant to continue the garden and will also build hoop houses to extend growing season. They have agreed to use the produce to supplement school lunches.
One lesson learned is patience; change takes time. Also you need to make sure that public awareness is continued. Word of mouth is big in small communities. I would like to have a large sign identifying the garden. I would like to dedicate one bed to native traditional "medicinal herbs" with education as to their use and benefits. We have learned that volunteers are wonderful and that it is very helpful to have contacts with community service work crews for those heavy labor intense projects. (Building raised beds and filling with soil and fertilizer.) Spread the word-- talk it up- it is almost better than anything in the newspaper. I learned to promote, promote, promote at every meeting I attended, even before planting season, and will do so again next spring.