Unity Gardens Destigmatizing Free Food and Education for Everyone

In the U.S., hunger is a real issue. One in eight families is trying to make ends meet, and almost half of college students don’t know where their next meal will come from. And 60% of homes with older folks have to pick between buying food and paying for heat or lights. So yeah, we really need to fix this. Here at Growing Spaces, we’re on a mission. We want to help businesses and groups work together to tackle the food crisis in our nation. Everyone should have access to fresh food, which is why we are so proud to be part of what’s happening at Unity Gardens.

Unity Gardens Doing Their Part

Unity Gardens spotted problems in South Bend, Indiana, over 10 years ago and wanted to do something about it. Their goals were pretty straightforward – make it easier to get fresh food, teach folks about healthy eating, and just generally make things better in the community, socially and economically. They’re also all about reducing food waste and helping people get jobs.

Their community gardening concept, also called “Unity Gardens”, is pretty cool. Unlike regular community gardens, you don’t need your own spot or seeds. Anyone can just show up and get fresh food.

Growing Dome Greenhouse to the Rescue

They wanted to do even more, so they got this neat thing called a Growing Dome greenhouse. Mitch Yaciw, a Unity Gardens project guy, found us online and received help from our in-kind food security grant. The dome isn’t just for growing food but also a place to learn. People from all over come to check it out and learn about gardening. Sara Stewart, who runs the show there, said the Growing Dome has “helped grow more than just plants.”

Building It with Unlikely Help

Putting together the Growing Dome was a big deal. At first, they were stressed about not having enough hands since many of their student volunteers were going back to school. But then, a program from the South Bend Community Re-Entry Center jumped in. A whole team from the Re-Entry program helped the Growing Spaces crew get the Growing Dome up in only two and a half days.

Unity Gardens didn’t forget that help. They were so impressed with the ReEntry volunteers that they hired two of them to work on their team permanently.

Growing Food and Knowledge

With extra help from Gecko Designs and the local firefighters, Unity Gardens set up a thriving winter garden inside the dome. They’ve also got an aquaponics system, a classroom area for over 30 kids, and a cool plexiglass window to watch composting happen.

Now, the Unity Gardens Growing Dome is doing a bunch of stuff. It’s hosting field trips, teaching people things through the Growing Dome, growing food, and just generally being a cool place that helps the community and they aren’t stopping there. They have taken on yet another project with a local organization. They plan to grow 20 orchards that will add 8,000 servings of fresh fruit to folks’ diets each year.

Andrew's University students visiting Unity Gardens Growing Dome
Andrews University students visiting the Unity Gardens Growing Dome

In the words of Kenzie Jackson from Growing Spaces, after talking to Sara, the head of Unity Gardens, it makes you want to “go back to your hometown and start a unity garden.”

Inviting Everyone to Join Unity Gardens

Sara said, “The Growing Dome helped grow more than just plants.” It’s really growing hope and unity in the community. It’s more than a greenhouse; it’s a symbol of what people can do when they come together. And they’re inviting everyone to check it out. If you feel inspired by their story and want to start something similar, email us at info@growingspaces.com. We’ll hook you up with Sara and her incredible team.

The stats in this article came from the United Way: https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/food-security-in-the-u-s/key-statistics-graphics/. Want to read more articles about community gardens? Sign up for our newsletter below and receive updates about our monthly blogs.

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