Back to Our Roots Finding and Building Community Through Food

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As we roll into March, I have spring on my mind. I’m ready for flowers and green lawns, blooming trees and gardens. Yes, we still have a way to go before these things start happening, but I can sense it in the air. Temperatures will start to rise soon, and everyone will start heading outside.

While Greater Lansing provides a plethora of activities to draw us out during the wintry months, we are all pretty schooled as Michiganders in the art of hibernation. Spring changes that. It’s a time to reconnect with our neighbors and our communities; for the multitude of farmers in our area, it’s a time to reconnect with the soil, as the planting of seedlings begins. 

To market, to market

Before we know it, outdoor farmers markets will open, which is one of my favorite things. There is something so special about the farmers market community. They create a space where we are invited to connect with others and with the source of our food. I find it so gratifying to fill my canvas bag with fruits and veggies that were grown by people I know. I also love everything I get to

enjoy, from handmade soaps to fresh flower arrangements and baked goods, as well as food truck services where I can grab a bite to eat while listening to live music.

It’s this kind of experience that honors the way we cultivate community and relationships — through engagement with each other. And, while we all recognize the value of that connection, busy lifestyles, convenience foods and superstores have all contributed to a disconnect from our food’s origins, and the importance of preparing and taking a meal with friends and neighbors.

Between art and food

In recent years, the significance of this relationship has been getting attention through the cropping up of large-scale art projects that are all about bringing people together around food. These projects focus on breaking down barriers to looking at food equity, nutrition and our food system. Most pointedly, they highlight the role artists can play in helping communities create sustainable public spaces.

The community table

Last year, HeARTside Community Meal, an outdoor meal held for 250 guests in a developing arts neighborhood in Grand Rapids, was entered
into Art Prize by Minnesota artist Seitu Jones; it won the $200,000 grand prize. Jones modeled HeaARTside after his Minnesota project, CREATE, which is ongoing and included a meal for 2,000 at a half-mile long table. Similar projects are Hunter Franks’ 500 Plates and the People’s Kitchen Collective’s To the Streets, which will feed 500 in West Oakland, California this May. These projects bring art, food, community and issues of social justice to the table.

Food at the center

In Lansing, this sort of food and community culture is at the heart of our farmers markets and our festivals. The Allen Neighborhood Center and Hunter Park GardenHouse also center their programs around the importance of food, including a year-round farmers market, an incubator kitchen, urban growth initiatives, youth garden clubs and other creative endeavors that let food, culture and art tell a story and create community.

Kitchens and gardens

Growing up, my sense of community had a lot to do with kitchens and gardens. My grandparents planted the most beautiful, artfully designed flower beds and one of the biggest vegetable gardens I’d ever seen. They put up lots of food every year, and no matter when we visited, the food was always from the garden. My mother carried on this tradition, and there were plenty of days that our kitchen was full of friends making jam, canning tomatoes and readying vegetables and berries for the freezer. I love my many memories around food and the way the growing — and eating — of it brought people together.

Make the connection

When we connect with people, conversations happen; through those conversations, art, music, friendship, collaborations and imaginations change — all these things are fueled and nurtured, and the sharing of food helps that happen.

As spring approaches, I encourage you to think about how you can connect or reconnect with your food and your community. As art and food culture is gaining momentum in Greater Lansing, opportunities are everywhere for exciting projects to happen: food murals, pop-up kitchens, community and urban gardens, food and art exhibitions — maybe, you even have a community table art project you are dying to share with the world. Don’t hold back. Connect.

Some things to do

Visit one of more than 20 farmers markets in the tri-county region. Also, we have nearly 100 festivals in our area; most are free, and all have art and food. One of those festivals is Fenner Nature Center’s Maple Syrup Festival on March 17. Take some time to connect between trees and syrup.

If you are looking for a fresh food experience, there are many great restaurants and food trucks in the area that buy local and fresh. My suggestion is Street Kitchen, a farm-to-table food truck that opened last summer at the corner of East Michigan Avenue and Detroit Street in Lansing. They even have indoor and outdoor dining options located at 2722 E. Michigan Ave. Perhaps, you would like to plant your own food, so try a window herb box or a few tomato plants on your porch.


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Dawn Gorman

Dawn Gorman is a writer, connector and creative who lives in Old Town, Lansing. She is the communications and events manager at the Arts Council of Greater Lansing and loves attending festivals and arts events. She jumps at any opportunity to talk about creative ideas.

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