JACKSON, Mich. — Tackling food inequality in Jackson is the goal for Grow Jackson Founder Jacob Inosencio. He started the organization in 2020 as a community initiative to increase access to fresh food for low income communities.
They use a food distribution network where they pick up food such as fruits and vegetables that would otherwise be thrown away. They rescue them in a process known as food reclamation. From there, food is distributed to people in the community who need more access to produce.
“What that means is instead of food going into the landfill, that would otherwise get thrown away, but it’s still good for supply chain reasons. We’re able to take that food and get it to people who need it right away,” said Inosencio.
The rescued food will primarily go to food banks and pantries, which helps expand food options for people that use those services.
Grow Jackson has several community gardens in the city that helps contribute to their fresh food distribution program. The products are also available at the Jackson Farmers Market and the Grow Jackson Garden Stand.
“We would love if people came into the garden and took what they needed, harvest what is ready, harvest what you want for you and your family and just take advantage of the resource and then come back and help volunteer and help plant and steward the sustainability of the garden,” he said.
Inosencio said that most of the city of Jackson operates in a food desert. Food deserts are areas where residents’ access to affordable, healthy food options, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, is restricted or nonexistent due to the absence of grocery stores within a convenient traveling distance. He says it’s especially prevalent on the city’s south side. One of the several community gardens is placed at the King Center.
“If you’re standing at the King Center where we have one of our main gardens you’re about five or six miles to the nearest Polly’s and between four and six miles from any grocery store that’s not a Family Dollar or a General Dollar party store,” Inosencio said. “Nothing against those stores, they certainly have a place but they’re not fresh food access.”
He said this causes people with limited transportation accessibility to not be able to go get fresh food.
“They’re not walkable. They’re not accessible and they turn to purchasing most of their food that’s processed and packaged,” he said.
He says this is a structural socioeconomic issue that affects Black and brown communities especially hard.
“You see institutional efforts to keep Black and brown communities marginalized through a variety of programs and because this has happened, you remove the wealth and then people are forced to make hard decisions about their health and wellness and that’s not something where these communities don’t want to eat well or aren’t aware of the negative effects of diet. It’s just that they’ve been completely removed from access to those resources in many regards.”
There are several programs in Jackson to help the urban core such as Together We Can Make a Purpose and Young People of Purpose. Inosencio said they hope to exist to support the work of those groups.
“We just tried to do what we can in our niche and then also support all of the other community gardeners with resources, seeds, plants, labor and whatever else they may need,” he said.
Grow Jackson plans on implementing a large garden this summer on Jackson’s east side on Tomlinson Street in partnership with non-profit Isaiah’s Hub.
“Our hope is with these three spaces, we can provide robust educational spaces for food system and environmental education and also grow a lot of really healthy, fresh organic food for people,” he said.
Inosencio also serves on the Environmental Commission and the Racial Equity Commission for the city of Jackson.
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