BELDING — Sometimes a competition is not about winning, but rather the experience and recognition you earn along the way in the attempt to claim victory.
The city of Belding may have fallen short in the 2013 Michigan Municipal League’s “Race for the Cup” on Sept. 20, which honors outstanding community projects, but the path that the city’s community garden took to be showcased statewide in Detroit has Belding officials smiling as if they came home boasting of first place.
The Belding Community Garden took top honors at the Michigan Municipal League (MML) 2013 Capital Conference in Lansing on April 9, winning the MML Region 3 Community Excellence Award (CEA).
The region included all communities in the west-central area of the state’s Lower Peninsula.
That win entered the garden into the statewide MML Community Excellence Award Race for the Cup competition, where the garden went up against community projects from six other region winners, several of them multi-million dollar projects.
The garden opened last year at a cost of under $4,000, but its impact was felt and showcased immediately when Belding Mayor Pro Tem Andrea Belding spoke at the Renaissance Center in Detroit on Sept. 20 in attempt to bring home the cup for the city.
In the end, the region 3 winner was not selected as the top entry, that recognition went to Ironwood’s Railroad Depot Park Project; however, Belding said returning home knowing that the young garden has been considered as a model of excellence for other communities to follow is more than enough to come home feeling victorious.
“We felt like winners,” Belding said. “We touched base with over 50 communities, many who have people who now want to come and visit Belding. We really felt like this was an opportunity to not only showcase the garden, but represent Belding.”
Belding’s opening speech at the competition painted a picture of a garden that is not just used by a few members of the community, but has a reach that extends to every corner of the city.
“As many projects do, it started with a relatively simply idea and a group of people coming together trying to meet a need in a struggling community,” she said. “Belding is a low to moderate income community and over 50 percent of our students are enrolled in the free lunch program. Our food pantry and God’s kitchen programs sometimes struggle to meet the demand. Because of this, the idea seed for the garden was planted — a true community garden. A place where all ages and stages can come together to sow, plant and harvest.”
The city provides water for gardeners to keep their plants flourishing, while the land was donated by Belding Area Schools.
It’s a partnership that Belding Area Schools Board President Tom Humphreys said is mutually beneficial.
“We are always looking for opportunities to partner with our friends in the city and other organizations in the community,” Humphreys said. “(The garden) is right across the street from our elementary school, so the kids get an opportunity to witness what is happening with the community coming together in this setting. School systems, like other cities and municipalities, are always hurting for resources. Whenever we can join forces to make the most of things, it’s good for everyone.”
According to Belding, more than 50 community partners worked together to create the garden at the cost of less than $4,000. After two years of planning, the garden opened in June 2012 at full capacity.
“Everything at the community garden is free,” she said. “We are proud to say we opened with more than 200 students and countless families being impacted and our numbers are only continuing to grow.”
Belding said because of the increasing interest in the garden, plans are set to expand the garden in the spring of 2014, which has already been funded through a donation of $5,000.
More than 20 bushels of fresh produce have been donated to the city’s food pantry and God’s kitchen programs since the garden opened.
“A community garden is a powerful thing on its own and Belding’s community garden is an example of what a community can achieve with collaboration and a spirit of commitment to build not only a project together, but a project that builds a community,” she said.
For more information on ways to contribute to the Belding Community Garden, call Belding City Hall at (616) 794-1900.