BYRON CENTER, Mich. — Julie Brunson hasn't always had a green thumb. But in recent years, her passion for gardening has blossomed into a way to help area schools and families.
"The mission is really to empower families, children and families to grow food so they can have choices," Brunson told FOX 17.
Together Brunson and her husband started the nonprofit H.O.P.E. Gardens in 2015.
The organization teaches gardening education year-round, and is responsible for more than a dozen community gardens at schools in West Michigan.
"The kids really are the heroes here," Brunson explained. "The kids are growing food... and they share food, and they share seeds."
She added, "It's about the experience. We want them to have that experience from starting that seed, and then the pride of them seeing it grow, and what kids grow, they'll actually try to eat."
Excess fruits and vegetables are donated to food pantries, nonprofits and area families.
For Brunson, the best harvest is knowing they are planting seeds for a healthier future.
"Seeing the 'aha moment' and a child when they have planted something, they see it grow," said Brunson. "And a lot of kids don't know where their food comes from. And when they have that, I think they're empowered to for themselves...you know, to sustain their families, but also to make some changes in like with nutrition, health."
Thanks to a special grant, H.O.P.E Gardens was able to grow last year, providing 250 deck gardens to students and their families.
The hope is to one day have a facility in Wyoming to grow operations even further.
As the FOX 17 and Lake Michigan Credit Union Pay it Forward Person of the Month, Brunson is receiving a $550 prize.