Urban Roots: Growing Community through Farming and Education

A community farm in southeast Grand Rapids is focused on growth, but it goes far beyond just planting and harvesting fruits and vegetables.

Growing community, resiliency, sustainability, knowledge and people through urban farming and education is at the core of the work that takes place at Urban Roots, located on an acre lot at 1316 Madison Ave. SE.

Growing field at Urban Roots with sign that reads "Urban Roots Community Farm & Education Center".The organization was founded in 2013 by Levi Gardner, who wanted to establish a model that empowered others to access fresh fruits and vegetables in a sustainable and community-based way. Started as a solo project, Gardner now employs five staff members and his work has caught the attention of Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss, who appointed him to the city’s urban agriculture committee.

Upwards of 4,000 visitors make their way to the farm every year to purchase food, volunteer or take part in educational programming. In everything they do, Gardner said the farm strives to be a model of community health. They fulfill that mission through a variety of programs.

  • A mobile classroom travels through the region helping schools, churches and non-profits start their own gardens.
  • Workshops are offered to community members on a range of topics, from how to start your own garden to tips on making meatless meals.
  • Their community market, which in late August will see improvements in offering neighbors discounts on produce picked from the farm and also take food-assistance payments from a variety of sources to help address food access gaps.
  • Employers and community groups can take advantage of group service learning projects at the farm. Organizations can tour the facilities, share a work experience together and enjoy a plant-based meal made with veggies from the farm.
  • A food waste collection service collected 15,000 pounds last year. It’s turned into compost that is used on the farm and sold in the market.

Volunteers working the field at the Urban Roots farm.Gardner has bigger visions for Urban Roots and for urban agriculture in the region. He sees it as a vital way to empower people to thrive and live healthier lives. Working the smallest plot of land has physical and mental health benefits, while the fresh harvest nourishes the body, he noted, citing the relationship between what people eat and how they feel.

Want to learn more about Urban Roots? Tune in to a special edition of “Ask the Dietitian” at noon on Wednesday, June 20 featuring Levi Gardner live from Urban Roots. Host Grace Derocha will take your questions and answer them during the broadcast. 

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Photos courtesy Urban Roots

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