Sunlight Gardens: Building Relationships Through Food

“I’m going to be the most inspiring farmer on the planet.”

It might be easy to dismiss Devon Wilson’s vision as hyperbole.

But at just 24 years old, Wilson already has put in a decade of work toward this goal. His Sunlight Gardens urban farm in Battle Creek, Michigan, is the culmination of tireless passion, hard-earned experience, and a mission for everyone—especially people in underrepresented communities—to have a great relationship with food.

Teen Spirit

A self-described chubby kid, Wilson grew disappointed with the food options around him after reading online about the effects. “I grew up in a very impoverished neighborhood. It was one of my favorite things whenever we gathered a little money from shoveling, raking, whatever, to go to the corner liquor store with my friends and buy junk food, because that is the kind of place where food was available in the neighborhood I was from,” Wilson says.

“After a while, I started to realize that all this food that I’m spending my money on, although it tastes good, it’s not doing good things for my body.”

His desire to find answers was further driven by watching both of his grandmothers lose yearslong battles with diabetes.  “These two amazing and powerful women in my life could potentially still be here if they just had a better diet, more access to knowledge, and good produce.”

Eager to learn about better options, Wilson, then 14 years old, started volunteering at a local urban farm.

Seeds of Change

A “life-changing” trip to Hawaii through the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms program at age 18 solidified Wilson’s intention to start his own farm. “I met cool, inspiring people out there, and I came back feeling charged up,” he says, recalling the time he spent learning techniques, like how to make his own fertilizer from a renowned off-the-grid farmer.

Wilson launched Sunlight Gardens in 2017 with friends, growing food “anywhere we could,” from leased plots of land to neighbors’ backyards, offering fresh produce in exchange for growing space.

A grant in 2020 enabled Wilson to purchase two acres in downtown Battle Creek, in a neighborhood similar to the one he grew up in. “I love that the location is in one of the worst parts of town. It gives us an opportunity to showcase the beauty that is within the hood where we come from,” he says.

“That is part of the vision we’re crafting—people [driving down the block] can look out at and see a team of kids working hard growing beautiful vegetables and serving the community.”

Inspiring Others

In addition to being in the center of the neighborhood it’s serving, Sunlight Gardens is the closest farm to downtown Battle Creek, Wilson says. Its primary operation is growing produce and selling it at farmers markets and to local restaurants.

But true to his vision, Wilson isn’t stopping there. Last year, Sunlight Gardens launched the Farm Squad, a program for kids ages 6-16 that works with schools to teach skills and foster a good attitude about working in farming.

Next up, Wilson and team are converting a shed on the property into a fresh produce market and preparing its hoop house to be a venue for hosting concerts, farming conferences, farm-to-table dinners, and other events—all with the hope of attracting people from the neighborhood and greater Battle Creek area. “This will be a way for our community to come together and chop it up with each other and share experiences and learn and grow from each other,” he explains.

“I’m intentional about our mission of cultivating health and food consciousness in the community, to prevent things like what happened to my two grandmothers.”

Sounds like a plan, and far from hyperbole.

Learn more about Sunlight Gardens

Guided by Kellogg’s African American Resource Group and our wellness brands Special K, Eggo, MorningStar Farms and Kashi, Kellogg has launched “Black History. Every Month.: A Call for Food Justice,” shining a light on the barriers to food justice and elevating the work of local heroes fighting to remove them.

As part of this commitment, Kellogg is making a $10,000 donation to Sunlight Gardens as well as organizations in New Orleans, Houston, Oakland, Detroit and other cities.

“We have a lot of lofty goals, and I’m so thankful that Kellogg’s is partnering with us,” says Wilson. Those goals include inspiring more people of color to get into farming. “We’re going to be breaking a lot of barriers that people might not even know are there.”

We invite you to join the fight for food justice three ways:

●     Learn more about food injustice and the barriers to healthy food systems in your area.

●     Support food justice programs with donations and by following them on social media.

●     Spread the word about organizations fighting food justice by sharing their stories on your social media channels, using hashtags #BHEM, #cultivatefoodjustice

 

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