Heartside Gleaning Initiative supports Grand Rapids community

By Drew Howard | 11/5/14 10:09pm

In the heart of downtown Grand Rapids is a community in need. The Heartside Gleaning Initiative has taken it upon itself to do something about this.

The Heartside Gleaning Initiative is a program dedicated to providing fresh food to the Heartside community, a neighborhood in Grand Rapids with an unemployment rate of over 20 percent in which nearly half the residents live beneath the poverty line.

The initiative was started by Grand Valley State University professor Lisa Sisson. Sisson and others serve the Heartside community through gleaning local farmers markets for fresh and healthy food to distribute to the surrounding area.

“The Heartside community has very high levels of food insecurity, meaning they don’t have access to food that will fit their nutritional needs,” Sisson said. “About 76 percent of the people in the neighborhood we interviewed experience hunger and food deprivation. It’s considered a food desert by the USDA, meaning there is low access to food and low income levels in the neighborhood.”

Sisson said the efforts of the Heartside Gleaning Initiative have debunked the theory that the residents of the community won’t eat fresh produce because they don’t like it.

“We have redistributed almost 18,000 pounds of produce back into the community in just six months,” Sisson said. “Many say that these people will not eat fresh produce, and that’s simply not true. People within the neighborhood have been telling us that they’re eating more fresh fruits and vegetables because of us. By providing these people with food, they are able to spend their money on other necessities.”

The Heartside Gleaning Initiative is comprised of people from all different backgrounds. A GVSU, the class Food Matters, taught by professor Anne Marie Fauvel, has students working directly within the community alongside the organization.

“I’m involved with the Heartside Gleaning Initiative by putting my students in direct contact with the organization,” Fauvel said. “The students in this class are required to volunteer on one Saturday at the downtown farmers market by collecting produce to distribute to the Heartside neighborhood.”

The gathering of fresh produce from farmers markets takes place through the spring and into the end of October. The Heartside Gleaning Initiative works on a weekly basis by attending and collecting fresh food from the markets every Saturday morning.

The work of the Heartside Gleaning Initiative is actually done in part by some of the members of the Heartside community.

Cora Arch, a resident of the Heartside neighborhood, is now working with the Heartside Gleaning Initiative to support her fellow neighbors.

“We can actually see from week to week what our donations are doing,” Arch said. “The biggest thing for me is that kids are now getting food that their parents normally can’t afford. Families need to buy necessities, and fruits and vegetables are considered a luxury. You can see the gratitude in these people’s faces.”

Arch said that the growth in the Heartside Gleaning Initiative has been tremendous since she started.

“The first week, we had six or seven farmers contributing, but the next week we had close to 15,” Arch said. “It got to a point where we had almost 40 farmers contributing every week. It went from 200 to 1,500 pounds of produce being distributed, and the best part is that none of it went to waste. Next year will be even better.”

For more information on how to get involved, Lisa Sisson can be contacted at sissonl@gvsu.edu.


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