Like other Flint-based philanthropists, Forbes and Martha Merkley left a precious gift to the community-their land. In the 1960s, Forbes and Martha operated a dairy farm just outside the city limits of Flint. The gently rolling landscape included pastures, meadows, mature woodlots, wetlands and ponds. Eager to preserve their property, the coupledonated 383 acres to Genesee County. In 1970, For-Mar Nature Preserve and Arboretum opened as a county park, named after Forbes and Martha.
Today the preserve features seven miles of trails, two nature centers, a picnic area, a new pavilion for gatherings, and gardens. Kearsley Creek meanders through this beautiful place, which has become a popular destination for school field trips.
When For-Mar staff noticed a decline in field trip opportunities for schools, they came up with an idea to take For-Mar programs "On the Road"-to county parks and schools. Since 2004, these mobile programs have touched the lives of more than 57,000 Genesee County residents. The goal in 2016 is to reach 18,000 people through outreach efforts.
One of the newest "On the Road" features is the For-Mar Truck Farm. Built on a flatbed trailer, the 60-ft greenhouse features a variety plants and vegetables, all grown from seed. The program is designed to get people outdoors, physically active, and learn about healthier eating habits, said Nicole Ferguson, For-Mar Park Naturalist.
"Truck farm programs provide community access to healthy food through education on all aspects of gardening, harvesting and preparation," said Ferguson. "All food produced on the truck farm is given to program participants or harvested and donated to the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan."
The mobile garden and nature-based literacy programs will travel through out Genesee County area parks and schools thanks to grants from the area community funds and youth initiative program funds.
"Our goal is through interactions with the Truck Farm, children and families will gain knowledge about gardening, growing and eating more nutritious foods," Ferguson says. "The program is an educational bridge between youth, families and the natural world."