Jan. 12 2011 12:00 AM

The Greater Lansing Food Bank offers training, grants for starting community gardens

Wednesday, Jan. 12 — Want to start a community garden but don’t know how? The Greater Lansing Food Bank can help.

The food bank’s Garden Project is now accepting registrants for the 2011 Garden Leaders Training program.

Community members will learn what it takes to successfully lead a group gardening project. The program also offers grants of up to $500 to assist with startup costs. Last year, 18 new gardens received money.

You must be involved with the training program to be eligible for grants. Income level and community involvement will also be considered.

“We’ve seen an increase in interest in community gardening in the last five years,” said Gabriel Biber, garden program manager of the Greater Lansing Food Bank.

The food bank serves Ingham, Eaton and Clinton counties. Biber said the three counties have more than 100 community gardens. About 80 of them have participated in the Garden Project.

The South Lansing Community Development Association was one of the 18 grant recipients last year. It received $500 for its Jolly Grove Community Garden.

“It’s very helpful,” said Rita O’Brien, health initiative coordinator and farmers market manager of the association.

O’Brien took the training classes and started four gardens last year. She said the most valuable part was building connections with resources and skilled garden leaders. O’Brien will share her gardening experience as a garden coordinator in this year’s training program.

“It’s really important for people to share knowledge and get supported for their ideas,” Biber said.

The benefits of having a community garden are enormous. It’s a way to have fresh food and create a sense of unity among community members, Biber said.

“It brings better health not just through healthy diet but also through exercises involved in gardening,” Biber said.

Food produced by community gardens goes on to support local food banks. O’Brien’s gardens produced about 1,000 pounds food last year and they donated half of the yield to the Southside Community Kitchen to help the poor.

O’Brien also initiated a summer garden potluck in her community last year, where gardeners came out to meet and share food they grew.

“It’s really fun,” she said. “People are really excited about getting involved in their community and meeting other people.”

Biber said starting a community garden isn’t a hard job if there are dedicated people and the right resources.

“The challenge is finding roles people are interested in,” he said. “What this training provides is really crucial leadership skills that are related to resource management and working with volunteers.”

Classes are available this year in two schedules. One is from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. every other Wednesday starting Jan. 12 through March 9. The other is two Saturday classes from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Feb. 19 and March 12.

To sign up for the training, go to the Greater Lansing Food Bank website or call 517-853-7809.