Harvesting The Assets in the Alger Heights Neighborhood
What does Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) look like in the Alger Heights community? This is a question I have been throwing around in my head ever since my wife and I moved back into the neighborhood about a year ago. The Alger Heights is a neighborhood with resources and possibilities. It is also a community with a strong core of middle to upper-middle class people eager to see change. I would boldly say that ABCD in the Alger Heights neighborhood is not as provocative as something in a more inner-city or “rougher” neighborhood. However, I would also like to say that ABCD is needed everywhere in our communities no matter the racial make up or socio-economic status. ABCD is about linking, partnering, relationship building, and discovering. It does not matter whether your doing this in East Grand Rapids, Marne, Muskegon, or in the heart-side neighborhood….it is all the same!
With that said, let us go back to the question already posed. What does ABCD look like in the Alger Heights community? One thing was very clear when I moved back from Muskegon to Grand Rapids. First, the neighborhoods were vastly different. I went from a mostly lower-economic and racially diverse neighborhood to a neighborhood that was wealthier and for the most part was pretty homogenous in terms of its ethnic make up. Second, people in the McLaughlin neighborhood of Muskegon were very willing to help at any time of the day because most of them were either unemployed or collecting disability. They were accessible and hungry to do things in their neighborhood. In the Alger Heights, neighbors are willing to do things but they are busier. They have other activities that take place at all hours of the day leaving very little time and energy to plug in new things. Time management In Grand Rapids is very different than it is up in Muskegon.
It became apparent that we needed to do a lot of listening to our neighbors to hear their stories and seek out their dreams and goals for the community. Something had to be discovered amongst my fellow residents that struck a cord in their hearts, something that they wanted to see change. One such thing that kept coming up in conversations was that we no longer have a local grocery store. It was something that deeply affected all of us in this neighborhood. Many people talked about how they missed the grocery store and produce section. Someone had mentioned at a Alger Heights Business Association meeting that we should start a community garden. And from that point on, we have gained great momentum.
From a cold February evening to now summer weather in June, we as a garden club have come a long way! Over the past three months a group of neighbors, business owners, and church members have been meeting to discuss the possibility of having a community garden in our neighborhood. What has transpired from our discussions is now a thriving community garden that boasts 68 plots with 115 members!
We had to keep the purpose clear though. In my Muskegon context it was interesting to see neighbors realize the potential of creating a community garden or gathering space because they had been told that they could not do this or that they needed money for it. It was something that was hard for them to dream about because they had never had anything like it before. Within the Alger Heights community, posing the idea of having a community garden sounded good to people but something that they also had not seen before. We wanted to get people on board that wanted to see this as more than just gardening but as something that allowed people to connect with one another. We did not want to offer a service to the neighborhood but with our group of ABCD believers….offer an opportunity to grow together in gardening and in relationship building.
It has been a blessing and a privilege to work, grow, and partner with the community and the local churches in this wonderful community nurturing opportunity. Our garden club constructed its mission statement to reflect our hopes and dreams for our neighborhood.
Alger Heights Community Garden Club is a club made up of neighbors, local businesses, and churches in the hopes that we will build community while beautifying our neighborhood and growing produce to share, sell, or support our friends and local non-profits. We are a body of people that want to create and build community capacity and relationships in the context of a community garden by which we strengthen ties and awareness of community felt needs and desires.
We could not have gotten where we are today without a emphasis on relationship building and communication. These were strong skills that I had sharpened up in Muskegon but then was able to take and transplant here in the Alger Heights. Before we as a body of people can come together to work, we need to be able to respect, trust, love, and learn from each other. This meant a series of meetings every week to plan and just to hang out to get to know everyone. We have continued these meetings at my house in which we have small potlucks every Tuesday night.
The garden club has enabled people to connect and network in many ways that might not have been possible were it not for the community garden. What has been a blessing to see is how people have used their gifts, time, and resources to make this garden club a reality. Here are some of their stories.
Alger Heights All-Star: Alan Arkema
I met Alan at the beginning of my internship at Seymour CRC. He is a retired pastor that still does some pastoral visits to some of our shut ins in the congregation. Alan joined our community garden project and soon took to work helping those who did not have much gardening experience. When it comes to vegetables and gardening, Alan is a good resource to have! For someone who is retired, Alan does not act like he is. He has helped install our garden sign, brought his personal branch chipper from home to cut down branches, and also help build our compost pile! We are blessed to have Alan Arkema in our garden club and thankful for his willingness to serve.
Rough and Tumble Gardener: Randy Pritchard
If you saw Randy drive down your street on his Harley Davidson motorcycle you might become a bit frightened. He is a tall man with big muscles and tattoos everywhere. He can seem intimidating but when you meet him and get to know him you find a man committed to the Lord and to his community. Randy has used his time and his pick up truck to seek out donations for bark chips and for delivering the necessary things to our garden club. He and his wife Gail have been long standing residents of the Alger Heights and are glad to see neighbors coming together to work. Randy is always willing to let us use his pick up truck for the needs we might have.
Artistic Flair: Simone Gibson
Simone was eager to pitch in and use her talents of art and design to decorate and paint the sign that was made by a local congregant at Seymour CRC. Our sign is a big wooden sign with a corkboard on the front for those wishing to post updates, rules for the garden, or other community happenings. Simone along with a few other garden members are working to paint the sign and make a mural on the back reflecting key points to our mission statement and highlight the beauty of gardening.
I could go on and on listing stories of those who have helped and used their gifts and knowledge to make this idea into a reality. This is the beauty of ABCD. It is about seeking out the gifts and potential in the neighborhood and then allowing opportunities for those with the skills, abilities, ideas, and dreams to use them in ways to strengthen and grow the neighborhood into a better place to live. We have come a long way since our meetings in February but we can now say when asked: “How good does your garden grow?” Very well, Thank you!
Josh Holwerda grew up in the Alger Heights Grand Rapids neighborhood. Following college, he completed two years of community development work as a CRWRC sponsored Americorps Member in Muskegon Michigan. Josh is now at Calvin Seminary, again living in the Alger Heights neighborhood, and interning at Seymour CRC. The story below reflects just a part of the long arc of God’s goodness in his still young life.