Prepare for spring with Garden Project!

Mike showcasing a variety of seeds to be sorted and packed in Garden to Go kits.

Greater Lansing Food Bank’s (GLFB) Garden Project is on a mission to partner with mid-Michigan communities to increase access to nutritious food by providing garden space and food-growing resources. In 2023, Garden Project gardeners grew more than 1 million pounds of food collectively across a network of nearly 90 community gardens and including more than 6,000 home gardeners!

Garden Project provides the seeds, resources and education for gardeners to grow foods that are important — even essential — to their diets. Empowering neighbors to grow some of their own food while increasing access to fresh, nutritious produce is an important part of GLFB’s work across our seven-county service area, as we aim to not just provide food, but to provide nourishment, dignity and hope.

To better understand how neighbors utilize the Garden Project program and how they can get involved as gardeners, volunteers or donors — and to get a preview of the garden season ahead — we sat down with Mike Tosto, Garden Project’s resource coordinator.

Question: What are some of the main resources Garden Project provides?

Mike Tosto: As Garden Project’s resource coordinator, I make sure that the Resource Center’s plant and seed distributions run smoothly. The Resource Center is home to our free, public plant and seed distributions — we send tens of thousands of transplants and seed packets home with neighbors each growing season. The Resource Center also offers a tool lending library, books for borrowing and a variety of educational documents that are produced in-house.

rack of garden plants

Transplants are available weekly at the Resource Center during garden season.

Offering these resources through the Resource Center gives neighbors who don’t already have access to what need to grow their own food — and who may not be able to go to a garden center and purchase plants, seeds or tools — the opportunity to meet their family’s nutritional and cultural needs through gardening. In addition, the educational resources offered through Garden Project events, print materials, staff and volunteers, helps make gardening for nourishment accessible to anyone, regardless of experience.

After harvest season, my focus shifts to putting the gardens to bed for the winter and securing seed donations from local stores like Meijer and from major seed producers nationwide. These seed donations support one of my favorite programs, Garden To Go, which is a volunteer-driven effort to send easy-to-grow seeds and basic gardening tips to food pantries and partners throughout GLFB’s seven-county service area. In winter 2024, we received more than 60,000 seed packets from a record 58 donors to assemble 6,000 kits.

In addition to the Resource Center, how does Garden Project work to increase food security for our mid-Michigan neighbors? 

Since 1982, Garden Project has strived to provide opportunities for our neighbors to grow their own nutritious fruits and vegetables. One major way we do this is by providing land access through community gardens. Many people simply don’t have enough space to grow their own food, and a 20’ x 20’ garden plot can be enormously productive when planted effectively. In addition to nearly 90 community gardens in our network, 17 of which are directly managed by Garden Project, we support more than 6,000 home gardeners through the Resource Center and our events.

A neighbor at Roots Community Garden tends to their plot during the 2023 Garden Tour event.

Garden Project is also in the process of planning Plant Pop-Ups at mobile food distributions in each of the counties GLFB serves that will offer tomato and jalapeño transplants. We have a strong presence throughout the city of Lansing and East Lansing, and we hope these Plant Pop-Ups will be one way we can increase our reach to neighbors in GLFB’s service area who may be less familiar with the resources we offer.

We also support many New American gardeners by connecting them to garden space, community and culturally familiar seeds and plants to ensure their families have access to foods that are important, familiar and comforting. This year, we are also piloting three Plant Pop-Up events specifically for New Americans from Africa and the Middle East, southeast Asia and Bhutan and Nepal.

What is Garden Project doing right now to prepare for the growing season?  

We are currently getting ready to start sowing seeds in our greenhouse in south Lansing. The Garden Project team grows many of the seedlings we distribute at the Resource Center, and even though it might snow for 2 more months, we are looking ahead to give out cold-hardy plants like greens and broccoli to folks in mid-April.

Garden Project also hosts many events throughout the season. We are currently hosting our monthly Community Garden Toolkit seminar series, intended to provide skills and increase knowledge to volunteers interested in serving on garden leadership committees, and also have a series of Introduction to Gardening workshops, in partnership with libraries across GLFB’s service area, to help neighbors learn the basics of gardening and how to grow food on a budget.

What are all the ways our community can get more involved with Garden Project?

If you love plants and people, I am always looking for people to volunteer at the Resource Center. There are also many other Garden Project-specific volunteer opportunities available on our website — there’s a way for everyone to get involved!

A gardening workshop takes place at Garden Project’s Demonstration Garden.

Most Garden Project-hosted events are free and open to the public, so anyone interested in learning more about gardening can attend! Detailed information on the Community Garden Toolkit seminar series and Introduction to Gardening workshops mentioned above, along with other events hosted throughout the year like Garden Tour, can be found on Garden Project’s events page.

Because Garden Project aims to make our resources as accessible as possible for all neighbors, monetary donations and donations of tools and other items are always appreciated to help ensure we can offer education, resources, seeds and plants for free to our gardeners. Our ultimate goal is to remove barriers to make gardening for nourishment accessible to anyone who is interested in pursuing it — everyone has a role to play, and every role makes a difference.