BELDING — On the edge of the city near a heavily wooded border of trees sits a garden where students, teachers and residents of Belding come together to share and enjoy in the experiences that come with growing fruits and vegetables and beautiful flowers and plants.
That little garden, known as the Belding Community Garden, is now receiving statewide attention after taking top honors at the Michigan Municipal League (MML) 2013 Capital Conference in Lansing, winning the MML Region 3 Community Excellence Award (CEA).
The region includes all communities in the west-central area of the state’s Lower Peninsula.
Competing against many other communities throughout the region on April 9, the city won for the creation and implementation of the community garden, which opened in spring of 2012.
Mayor Pro Tem and Community Garden Coordinator Andrea Belding attended the MML conference last week representing Belding and was proud to see the city standing alone on top of the region at the end of the day.
“This is a huge honor and is shared between the Belding Community Garden Group, the city, Belding Area Schools, our businesses and our residents,” Belding said. “The garden was chosen because of our community’s collaborative effort and student involvement with the program.”
Upon opening last year, the garden featured 16 planting beds, including two handicap accessible beds. According to Belding, the garden had 13 families sign up to work the garden with three sponsoring a bed for their family and one sponsoring a bed for the Belding Food Pantry.
She said four families gardened solely for the benefit of the Belding Food Pantry. To date, the Belding Community Garden donated approximately eight bushels of fresh produce to the food pantry.
“The benefit to the Belding Food Pantry makes our community garden truly special,” she said. “We’re really hoping that another community can use what we did in our community as an example and apply it and have the benefits we’ve experienced.”
The creation of the garden, which is located on school property across from Woodview Elementary School on Orchard Street, was done so in collaboration with Belding Area Schools.
“Without it being on school property we wouldn’t have a garden, so I am so thankful for that,” Belding said.
School Board President Tom Humphreys said it was an honor for the city to receive such an award, as many students and teachers use the garden daily for learning experiences and class projects.
“It is exciting to have that partnership with the schools and the city, to collaborate, and especially to impact as many students as it has and make an impact on the community as well,” he said. “It’s a great accomplishment.”
The city will now go on to compete against the other six regional winners for the statewide CEA at the League’s annual convention Sept. 17-20 in Detroit. The CEA program called “The Race for the Cup,” was started by the League in 2007 to recognize innovative solutions taking place in Michigan’s cities, villages and urban townships.
Andrea said she will once again represent the city in the fall, hoping to bring more attention to the community across the state.
“I’m really excited about being able to showcase Belding in the fall,” she said. “We’re up against six other very worthwhile projects, some of them multi-million dollar projects, but sometimes the little guy with a smaller budget and the bigger heart takes home the cup.”
With the arrival of the new gardening season this year, Andrea Belding is asking for anyone interested in being involved in the garden to come forward.
“Please consider being a part of the garden. You don’t necessarily have to garden, you can volunteer, there’s many opportunities,” she said. “Contact me with any ideas if you’d like to be a a part of the Belding ‘Brings Home the Cup’ team.”
Belding Mayor Ron Gunderson thanked Belding on behalf of city council for helping to bring the award home to the city.
“Thank you for your efforts and what you put forward for the city,” he said.
Belding City Manager Meg Mullendore said she is familiar with the Community Excellence Award and said the city truly has a unique garden to be proud of.
“It is an awesome opportunity for a community to showcase something they are doing,” she said. “It really brings the community, and entities within the community, together. It’s a great honor.”
During the MML conference Andrea Belding was also appointed to serve as a region 3 officer for the Michigan League.
“By serving in this capacity I will have a direct impact on topics being specific to our region,” she said. “I will also be able to testify in Lansing and be involved in policy, discussion, and current legislation that will directly impact Belding. I’m eager to take on this new role and I think it will really benefit us here at the council level.”
For more information on ways to contribute to the Belding Community Garden, contact Belding City Hall at (616) 794-1900.