Written by – Kaitlynn from MIgardener
In Michigan’s capital of Lansing, Morgan D loved gardening from an early age. Gardening grew in its importance to them over the years as a way to connect to themselves and the land. Luckily, Lansing was one of the best cities in the state to harbor that passion.
Urban gardening is exceptionally accessible to residents of Lansing. In 2017, Morgan and their friends noticed an empty flood plain on a walk that was owned by the county for agricultural purposes. They were inspired to put in an inquiry to acquire the land for a new project. The friends imagined Tender Heart Gardens for the first time. Tender Hearts would be a space for LGBTQ+ people to connect to nature and provide for the broader community through food distribution.
Talking to Morgan about Tender Heart Gardens was a truly wonderful experience, I hope you enjoy this little glimpse into the world of urban farming in Lansing, Michigan.
Gardening in Lansing
The opportunities for urban farmers in Lansing reach far and wide. The Ingham County Land Bank has resources like seeds, transplants, and gardening tool rentals available to anyone. This organization also offers land rentals for lower prices for folks who cannot fully purchase land. Tender Heart Gardens initially used services from the ICLB to get their vision up and running. Opportunities like elementary school gardens, family gardens, and food distribution projects are happening all over the city.
Morgan noted that though Lansing has come a long way, there has always been a notable lack of land access given to the LGBTQ+ community in general. When asked, Morgan referenced how LGBTQ+ people who grew up in rural farming areas, those who love land work, often do not feel safe living in their home towns. “That’s why LGBTQ+ people have historically moved to urban areas and engage in urban farming movements. It allows them to do the work they love in a community that is welcoming and feels safe for themselves and their families.”
The Next Chapter
A problem arose for the group, unfortunately. Land rentals from the city was unfortunately not permanent. The garden that had belonged to Tender Hearts for years was not guaranteed for long term use by the city. Movements to use the land for residential development were underway, forcing Tender Hearts to relocate. The vision for Tender Hearts had to evolve. Especially because of COVID, less help was available than usual to maintain the land.
A friend of Morgan’s, Ana stayed hardworking with the rest of the team as they put their heads together to imagine a solution. The Capital United Land Trust was the next step. Founders and associates of Tender Hearts made a plan to collectively buy land for permanent agricultural development. First and foremost, Capital United Land Trust would become the parent organization to projects like Tender Heart Gardens, owning land and making it available to marginalized communities for permanent use.
Where Does Tender Heart’s Harvest Go?
Harvests from the gardening collective go to a number of locations. Morgan laughed before saying, “Anyone who works gets free food.” In the past, produce would be placed on a free food stand where anyone from the neighborhood could partake. Today, Tender Hearts donates most of the harvest to the Alan Neighborhood Center, a local food pantry managed by another friend and associate of Tender Hearts. In 2020, the emphasis was on storage crops like potatoes, garlic, and dry beans for maximum production. There are big dreams underway for what could be possible under the Captial United Land Trust.
After bonding over the nostalgia of gardening with big groups of strangers, and fawning over cool projects we love like Dreamgoats, my final question was simple. I know from experience the joy a garden brings, so why was gardening the chosen outlet for the crew of Tender Heart Gardens? Morgan opened up to say that Tender Hearts was started at a pivotal point in their life where they were going through the end of a relationship and had started a physical transition. Since gardening was already their outlet, Morgan knew that it could be something they extended to the community. “I love gardening because doing physical work in nature can feel a lot more like a safe home than anything else. If you’re struggling with your space in your body or your relationships, focusing on your relationship to the natural world was a comfort to me, it seems to be a comfort to a lot of people.”
Tender Heart Gardens is associated with the Saulus Center in Lansing, and LGBTQ+ resource center, and the only one of its kind in the city. To donate to the efforts of the Saulus Center, click here.
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