Michael Evans, Kalamazoo Literacy Council and Kym Hollars, Goodwill Industries of SW Michigan
As part of a one-year garden education and outreach exploratory project, Kalamazoo Valley Community College is getting to know some of the organizations in the Kalamazoo community that are growing gardens. Kalamazoo Valley wants to raise awareness about the importance of gardening to support education and community needs. This article highlights the Read and Seed Community Garden created by the Kalamazoo Literacy Council and Goodwill Industries of SW Michigan.What is the Kalamazoo Literacy Council?
The Kalamazoo Literacy Council (KLC) was founded in 1974 with the purpose of providing free literacy support to enhance reading, writing and spelling skills in adults around Kalamazoo. Until August of 2010, the Kalamazoo Literacy Council operated on a volunteer basis. In 2010, the Kalamazoo Literacy Council and Goodwill Industries of SW Michigan (Goodwill) received a collaborative grant to expand literacy services throughout Kalamazoo. The grant provided funding for KLC’s first full-time staff member, Michael Evans. Michael was hired on as the Executive Director. The grant also provided the opportunity for KLC to move into Goodwill’s building and begin building collaborative projects together.
The Read and Seed Community Garden began in 2012. The garden is located in the back of Goodwill, at 420 East Alcott St. in Kalamazoo. KLC discovered three raised beds that seemed very neglected sitting out back of the building. Michael and the Director of Adult Education Programs at Goodwill had many discussions about the neglected raised beds. In time, it was agreed that the vacant space would be best utilized as an outdoor learning opportunity. So, they began building the garden. The goal of the garden is to support adult learners by providing time with their children (little scholars), in an outdoor learning environment, while still completing their learning goals. This unique learning space provides an opportunity to support multi-generational learning.
The Read and Seed Community Garden not only supports literacy and education, but provides a local source for healthful food. Produce that is harvested from the garden is donated to employees, learners, community participants, and volunteers.
The Read and Seed Garden is now a fully functional community garden with an interpretative learning center so that people can learn while spending time outdoors. The interpretive learning center was started so outdoor classroom spaces could be provided for KLC and Goodwill adult learners (and their families) to continue their learning. The urgency behind the project was a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. KLC and Goodwill, like many, were experiencing difficulties providing their learners a safe place to gather. With the support of local partners and funders, they were able to secure enough funding to create a safe place for families to gather, learn, and grow.
What can you learn in the garden vs. in the classroom?
KLC and Goodwill have managed to connect the dots of the learning cycle. Adult learners and little scholars have the opportunity to read and learn about the life cycle of plants - they are able to then apply this knowledge in a practical way by observing, nurturing and supporting the life cycle of plants in the garden. “Providing a more tactile, hands-on approach to learning reinforces a lot of the G.E.D. standards and college readiness programs”, said Michael Evans. KLC and Goodwill have been able to use the garden as an additional resource to support their science, early elementary education, health, wellness and nutrition education.
Nutrition education expands well beyond the Read and Seed Garden. KLC and Goodwill will take their learners to the Kalamazoo Farmers Market to educate them on how to use their Double Up Food Bucks plus how to select produce. Then, they take it a step further by incorporating the SNAP-Ed curriculum, provided in partnership with Van Buren ISD, to support a literacy focus on recipes, ingredients, nutritional facts, and healthy cooking and eating at home.
Does KLC offer any programming for the Kalamazoo community?
Yes! The public is invited to attend and participate in Family Literacy Days. The events are hosted in the community garden, and each month highlights a different theme. Have questions or would like more information? Please contact Kamaria Nichols at
How has KLC and Goodwill been able to make all of this happen?
“Nothing happens by itself. Partnerships allow us to accomplish goals”, remarked Kym Hollars. KLC and Goodwill actively seek community partners and funders to support programming initiatives. Program partners include, but are not limited to, Kalamazoo Promise, Goodwill Industries, Kalamazoo Public Library, Talking is Teaching, Kalamazoo County Great Start Collaborative, Van Buren ISD, YWCA of Kalamazoo, Western Michigan University, and Kalamazoo Valley Community College. Local funders include, but are not limited to, Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo, Harold and Grace Upjohn Foundation, Marvin and Rosalie Okun Foundation, Kalamazoo Community Foundation and the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation.
How has partnering with Kalamazoo Valley supported your organizations?
Kalamazoo Valley has started plants from seed for several years as one contribution to the Common Ground Network. The plant starts are donated to local community gardens to support initiatives addressing food access and insecurity issues around Kalamazoo. “Without the plants from Common Ground, we would not be able to operate our community garden. Much of our garden’s success is because of [Kalamazoo Valley]’s plant donations”, said Michael Evans.
Kalamazoo Valley has provided a number of college student interns to support business operations; many interns have volunteered their time in the Read and Seed Garden on top of their business internship. Another way that Valley supports is bridging the gap between adult education and community college, for those that have that aspiration. When students apply to Valley they are required to take an Accuplacer examination so the college can get a better understanding of what level of classes a student should enroll in. Those that may score lower on writing or reading portions of the exam will be referred to KLC for tutoring support.
Recent conversations between KLC and Valley’s ValleyHUB have opened new doors of opportunity for both organizations revolving around food systems education. A collaborative grant provided the opportunity for both organizations to come together and participate in The Career Readiness Talent Pipeline Management (TPM) Academy® of Michigan. The Career Readiness TPM Academy® is a training developed by the U.S. Chamber Foundation that seeks to enhance partnerships between community colleges and sub-baccalaureate programs and employers to improve completion, credential attainment and employment and career advancement, particularly for people of color. KLC is interested in replicating ValleyHUB food hub practices on a small scale at Goodwill Industries. The vision of this new adult training program is to educate learners about the wide variety of careers in our local food systems.
What have been some challenges the Read and Seed Community Garden has experienced?
With any garden, wildlife can be a major challenge to overcome. The most important thing for any gardener to keep in mind as they manage wildlife is how to co-exist in the natural world.
The biggest challenge for the Read and Seed Garden, that is experienced on an annual basis, is lack of labor support with garden maintenance. Michael Evans and his family are the primary caretakers of the garden. Anyone that is interested in helping support the community garden is encouraged to contact Michael at
“Many hands make light work.”
-Proverbs by John Heywood, 1546