The Giving Garden

A Kalamazoo County Master Gardener Project

The Giving Garden is a volunteer project of the Master Gardeners of Kalamazoo County and is sponsored by Michigan State University Extension in collaboration with the Food Bank of South Central Michigan. The central mission of the project is to provide fresh vegetables to the under served and those in need in eight contiguous counties in south central Michigan.   All of the food grown is donated to Ministry with Community and the Food Bank of SCM, which distributes via food pantries and kitchens in their respective service areas. Both of these organizations pick up the food themselves, while volunteers deliver produce directly to Loaves and Fishes, the Kalamazoo based food pantry.

The Giving Garden was founded in 1997 by Master Gardener Mike Blakely. Since its inception, the Giving Garden has provided between 7,000 and 30,000 pounds of vegetables annually.  In 2015,1,204 MG volunteer hours were logged at the garden.  A core group of Master Gardeners (Jim and Linda Clarey, Peg Corbin, Marianne Guitar, Brenda Kolkman, Leslie Mars, and Harvey Myers) coordinate activities at the garden from late April to early November each year. Volunteering is not restricted to being an EMG and the garden welcomes community members from all neighborhoods.  

A secondary mission of the Giving Garden is to demonstrate science-based gardening techniques that are possible on a low budget.  Hands-on workshops have been held in the garden free of charge; topics included insect identification, raised bed gardening, companion planting, cover crops, row covers, straw bale gardening, and composting.  Volunteers from the garden have also taught a six-week introductory vegetable gardening class titled “Veggie 101”.

The Giving Garden is located at 5070 East N Avenue, the southeast corner of Sprinkle and Kilgore Road (N Avenue), on 1.5 acres of  land owned by Humphrey Products and Kendall Electric, who generously provide the water which allows the master gardeners to grow vegetables on it.  Schramm’s Greenhouse and  Key Blooms (Vicksburg) donate plants, while Farm and Garden (Kalamazoo) provides seed.  MSUE does not provide funding for the Garden, so the support of these businesses is crucial to the Garden’s existence.  The Coordination Committee seeks grants to help pay for equipment needs.not provide funding for the Garden, so the support of these businesses is crucial to the Garden’s existence.  The Coordination Committee seeks grants to help pay for equipment needs.

The primary vegetables grown include tomatoes, peppers, summer and winter squash, cucumbers,potatoes, cabbage, pumpkins, kale, collards and beans. While the Garden is not 100% organic, the gardeners do practice IPM.

Since there isn’t a sprinkler system at the site, the gardeners use a combination of watering methods: drip (either by hose or clever use of milk cartons), soaker hoses in the raised beds, and overhead sprinklers.

This garden has been planned to be sustainable. Five years ago, garlic bulbs were purchased and planted.  Each year the seeds from the garlic are harvested and saved for the following garden season. That one purchase years ago is still producing a bountiful garlic crop each year.  In addition to volunteers and the public, we encourage pollinators and bio-control agents to visit the garden.  A Master Gardener maintains bee hives at the garden each summer. To help manage insects, there are birdhouses placed around the garden and Mike, the Red-Tail hawk, has been made the garden’s official mascot for his role as honorary director of critter management.

The MMGA applauds the Kalamazoo Master Gardeners and is happy to shine a spotlight on this fantastic project!