Urban areas have long been struggling with vacant or foreclosed properties in addition to providing their communities with easier access to fresh produce. The Ingham County Land Bank Garden Program helps neighborhoods find solutions to these very issues while simultaneously fostering a sense of ownership and beautification. Jared Talaga serves as a Garden Program AmeriCorps Member. He explains, “We have a multitude of properties utilizing the land for different projects.”
Tax foreclosed properties can easily go to the wayside, but the county is still required to maintain such land. Maintenance costs the county (or city) an estimated $400 a year. Rather than incurring these costs, some of the land can be utilized in extremely beneficial ways. This is where the Land Bank comes in. Individuals, groups, or communities can approach the Land Bank to take over one of these properties. When this happens, the space in question undergoes some scrutiny, providing an opportunity for neighbor residents to learn about whatever project is at hand in addition to making sure the property is conducive to gardening or farming. Once this inspection is administered and the project approved, the Land Bank provides aid for start-up costs and additional resources. This start-up assistance includes testing the soil, buying the seeds, and tilling the land, each of which are pivotal pieces to the growing process.
Neighborhoods have responded positively to these additions to the landscape. People use their space for a range of growing projects:
- Community Gardens: A space where the neighborhood can come together and work on a gardening space.
- Household Gardens: A single family may take over a parcel of land near their home to grow.
- Urban Farms: Groups of people grow produce for neighborhood farmers markets.
- Neighborhood Beautification Projects: Creating “beautiful” spaces on the vacant properties.
There is a wide range of uses for the land, and any number of people have come forward to use the land. Recently, a neighborhood has come to Ingham County hoping to take their creativity and commitment so far as to create a neighborhood orchard.
“It brings people out of their houses and into their neighborhood communities,” Talaga explains. The City of Lansing supports similar programs, and the Land Bank works closely with the city to help neighborhoods achieve their goals. “We have the best success with people who live near their parcel for maintenance sake and commitment to their community,” Talaga goes on to say. This truly is an opportunity for neighbors to work together to bring healthier options close to home and to create more appealing spaces on potentially less attractive parcels of vacant property.
The Land Bank is in its third growing season and looking forward to many more. As community gardens and farming are becoming more and more popular in the urban areas, other communities in Michigan are invested in similar pursuits. Kalamazoo County and Genesee County are already well underway, and the Detroit community is working toward a system of its own. Urban areas are seizing this as a viable option to help with foreclosures, development restrictions, and areas with high amounts of crime. As Jared says, this is an opportunity to, “Spend time outside, meet new people, and help communities grow together.”