Planting the Seeds of Healthy Habits

How can pizza teach kids and adults about eating healthy? In a pizza garden with tomatoes, basil, and onions, of course!

It may sound strange but it’s just one of the creative ways Gleaners’ new Food Zoo is connecting with youth and adults to inspire healthy eating and interest in gardening.

Gleaners opened the Food Zoo in June 2016 across from its main warehouse in Detroit. Realizing that ending hunger takes more than supplying food, Gleaners’ goal in creating the Food Zoo was simple: increase nutritional intake by encouraging people to grow and eat more vegetables. An important step in reaching that goal is helping people understand the link between vegetables and nutrition and demonstrating how vegetables can be easily grown with limited resources such as space, time, and money.

The Food Zoo is a demonstration and learning garden rather than a production garden. Youth learn about healthy eating and develop skills in basic food preparation and gardening, all while getting outside. Partner agency staff, and adult volunteers and clients, also have an opportunity to learn about nutrition and to see how they can start their own vegetable gardens at home or at their local pantries.

In addition to the Gleaners staff members who tend to the crops, coordinate agency education, and provide youth programming, two local organizations also play a key role in the success of the Food Zoo.

Keep Growing Detroit helps by providing programming for agency partners while connecting them to the Garden Resource Network. During the upcoming growing season, the Capuchin’s Soup Kitchen Earthworks Urban Farm will provide technical expertise including overseeing crops, managing pests and disease, and ordering supplies. This coordinated effort means youth and adult visitors will leave with a full range of connections and skills to help add nutritional variety to their diets.

“Gardening is a great way to engage youth in a positive development program,” said Milaina Macklin, Michigan State University Extension 4-H Program Coordinator. “They can develop so many life skills, from problem solving and leadership to healthy lifestyle choices. You can see their sense of pride and ownership as they see their garden project develop into something that contributes to their health and health of their community.”

The Food Zoo is open May-October, weather permitting, for self-guided tours and group volunteer opportunities. Schedule a time to volunteer

You can read more stories like this and learn more about Gleaners in our Harvest Magazine.