With an empty lot, a huge vision, and a desire to beautify the neighborhood while instilling community and abundance, the Benton Harbor Community Development Corporation has successfully established and developed the magnificent Flourish Community Garden.
2022 is the first year for this productive plot, with the goal of hosting community events in this ever-changing gathering space. The vacant field at 812 Broadway Avenue took quite a few volunteers to clear, but with the help of many hands and some heavy machinery, Clean Up day in May was a huge success.
“The idea for the garden came through an asset mapping project we conducted in the Fall called, ‘Reimagining Community’”, says Ashley Hines, Executive Director of the Benton Harbor Community Development Corporation. “Neighbors expressed the desire for community gardens, and food sovereignty is extremely important to me. As an organization, we also thought it would be a great solution to combat blight and improve social cohesion, which is a huge part of our work.”
Seeds have been planted, physically and metaphorically, of how this organic food system will not only serve as a source of sustenance, but also nourish the minds and souls of the community. In early June, seedling donations poured in from Billy Burdett and the Harris Family Farm Foundation, a Southwest Michigan nonprofit donation & education farm located in Galien.
Volunteers were eager to plunge trowels into the soil to begin life in the garden, and help was in abundance. Gerrod Moore, avid supporter of the BHCDC, and his colleagues from the FOCUS group at Whirlpool dug side by side with members of the 400 B.L.A.C.K. Mentoring Program (Building Leaders And Cultivating Kinship), to tuck all of the plants into the ground. Support for the community garden continues to pour in, as organizations like United Way of Southwest Michigan, Boys & Girls Club of Benton Harbor, Let Us R.E.S.T., and many others, bring Flourish Community Garden and its mission to the spotlight in Berrien County.
The Benton Harbor Community Development Corporation was awarded the Big Idea Grant from the Berrien Community Foundation for the Flourish Community Garden in early July, which will provide $25,000 in funds to support their sensational work. This grant, which encourages non profit organizations to ‘think outside the box’ to grow their mission, will aid in the expansion of the garden.
“The BHCDC launched in November of 2020, and we are dedicated to strengthening the community of Benton Harbor by supporting and empowering our residents in all aspects,” Ashley says. “This grant allows us the financial opportunity to acquire the vacant house next to our lot, and expand the footprint of our garden. We will be able to extend our gardening season by adding a dome, or greenhouse, to the property, and also provide garden starter kits to residents that are interested in gardening at home.”
The space at the Flourish Community Garden has been busy hosting events this Summer, with many more in the future. The Flourish Food & Friends Garden Party took place on Tuesday, July 26th, and served as their Open House to the community. The Southwest Michigan Local Food Council was in attendance, and spoke of the importance of building a healthy food system.
“Our programming will also include cooking demonstrations, book clubs, and after school homework help hours for students in the community,” says Ashley. “Through this work, I hope the garden serves as an affirmation of what’s possible here: to Flourish, in all aspects of life, as individuals and as a community.”
To learn more about how you can get involved with the Flourish Community Garden, and the wonderful work that the Benton Harbor Community Development Corporation does, please visit the BHCDC Facebook page, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Jocelyne Tuszynski, MOTM Contributor