_former michigan running back starts flint garden as part of #eating project _ ______mlive. com

Former University of Michigan running back starting garden program in Flint Former University of Michigan running back Vincent Smith works to clear vacant lots near the intersection of Cottage Grove and Sixth avenues on Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015, in Flint. The lots will be filled with fresh fruits and vegetables as

Vincent Smith, a Wolverines running back from 2009-2012, began the Team Gardens program with

fellow athletes in Florida three years ago as a way to provide fresh fruits and vegetables for residents in Pahokee, also known as Muck City.

“We have all this muck, rich soil it’s basically all from an area with sugar cane and corn in our backyards,” he said. “We don’t have any fresh produce areas we can go and get (things), so I thought it would be cool to go and just plant a community garden in our own back yard and just provided it for the community.”

The effort began in Florida through a social media campaign on Instagram, Twitter under the #EATING Project — an homage to an end-zone celebration while at the University of Michigan — and through a chain of emails, Smith said, and morphed into Team Gardens.

Former University of Michigan football players Martavious Odoms, a Pahokee native who helped launch the original project, and Denard Robinson have also taken part in the efforts.

Donations rolled in for the Florida garden which is now filled with several items including passion fruit trees, star fruit, lemons, limes, tangerines, bananas and guava trees.

Smith became interested in a potential garden in Flint after playing alongside Flint natives Thomas Rawls and Justice Hayes and learning about the shrinking fresh food options within the city limits.

“It was good as far as just reaching out to a couple of guys that I played with and had that team camaraderie,” he said, paying a visit to Flint this summer to scope out a location and landing on vacant lots near Cottage Grove and Sixth avenues. “I looked at them as just brothers and being able to give back to our own communities and being able to have a safe place for the kids to play and go to a safe place and get fruits and vegetables all for free.”

More than a dozen people, including fans, friends and others helped clear the lots on Sunday, Nov. 8, that were offered up by a fan where fruits and vegetables will be planted come April and provided for free to the residents.

Lance Rison, 17, a senior at Flint Northwestern, was one of those in the crowd that put on work gloves and helping clear brush and branches to be hauled away. He’s seen the impact of grocery stores moving out of the city.

“I live in the city and the closest grocery store we have is probably Kroger and Walmart and that’s all the way over on Corunna (Road),” he said. “It is pretty sad. The Kroger on Pierson road closed down. There’s not many choices that we have, so it will be pretty nice to have fresh fruit and vegetables around.”

Decked out in a maize and blue coat and stocking cap with the Michigan emblem, Farmington Hills resident Jonathan Williams came up to Flint to help out Smith in the cause.

“To give back to the city of Flint is a vastly important thing,” he said. “Flint’s seen some tough times, but it’s on its way back. Rebuilding is a marathon, not a sprint.”

Smith said there are discussions in the works regarding another garden in the Flint area, where he’s working with another former football player to start a garden in Detroit like the other projects and hand out bags of healthy fruits and vegetables.

Part of the project is also about connecting with the community and letting them know about the options they have available.

“The Flint Farmers’ Market is a nice good way for the community to come together and have that same opportunity,” Smith said. “So with the farmers market and this nice community garden it’s pretty positive and provides some easy access.”

A GoFundMe page for the Flint garden project has been started at gofundme. com/th3n4u89. Anyone looking for more information about the project may visit teamgardens. org.

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