Carol Van Andel Healthy Living Center

Focused on improving the health of our community, the Carol Van Andel Healthy Living Center, located inside the Mary Free Bed YMCA serves as an incubator for new national, regional and local healthy living initiatives and innovative evidence-based programs intended to reduce the growing obesity epidemic and combat preventable chronic disease through nutrition, physical activity, and education.

In addition to the numerous education and physical activity programs offered through the Carol Van Andel Healthy Living Center, the Center provides holistic and comprehensive nutrition education to individuals and families in our community through the following:

  • A universally designed teaching kitchen where food, education, and compassion become one. Members of our community learn how to make healthy affordable meals that will feed the entire family, no matter the size.
  • greenhouse where learning happens through nature. A fully accessible greenhouse teaches children and adults to plant, grow, and harvest fresh and pesticide-free vegetables and herbs.
  • learning farm where growth and nourishment are cultivated.  The farm provides farm-to-table programming for all, volunteer experiences, and entrepreneurial training for small-scale, startup farmers.


In the Mary Free Bed YMCA, the Carol Van Andel Healthy Living Center is home to an accessible Teaching Kitchen. Our Teaching Kitchen’s culinary programs empower individuals and families with the skills, knowledge, and confidence to make healthy and affordable meals that incorporate the fresh produce they learned to grow in our greenhouse and throughout West Michigan.

As an organization deeply committed to supporting local agriculture and changing behaviors for the better, the Y’s Teaching Kitchen allows our community members to expand their culinary skills and knowledge in an effort to bring back the family dining experience.

Local culinary and nutrition experts will facilitate programs that inspire participants to prepare healthy, cost effective foods that taste great and are locally grown. The Teaching Kitchen provides universal access that unites able-bodied individuals and persons with disabilities under the pursuit of opportunities that make wellness accessible to all.

Teaching Kitchen


The Greenhouse, located in the Carol Van Andel Healthy Living Center at the Mary Free Bed YMCA, allows a wide variety of groups including; youth, seniors, individuals with diversabilties, veterans, and so many others an opportunity to get their hands dirty while engaging their senses.  Participants learn the basics, including:

  • How to grow healthy plants, starting from seed or seedlings
  • What to grow, from herbs to veggies
  • How to sort produce in an accessible and safe setting
  • The agricultural and entrepreneurial skills needed to sell what has been grown
  • Access to comprehensive cooking programs in our Teaching Kitchen

This space is designed to provide an inclusive agriculture experience for a wide range of participants. In addition, programs include horticultural-based therapy for individuals with mobility restrictions, which is a widely recognized as a practical treatment for people in need of post-acute rehabilitation services.

The YMCA Veggie Vans will play a vital role in this educational process by providing the new growers a venue for selling the herbs and crops raised in the Greenhouse and accessible gardens.

If you are interested in learning more, please send an email to or call us at 616.885.5912. 



At the Mary Free Bed YMCA, the Carol Van Andel Healthy Living Center hosts a Learning Farm, with a farm-to-table focus, allowing a variety of groups to gather and develop the agricultural skills needed to grow produce, as well as the entrepreneurial skills needed to sell what they grow.

The Learning Farm provides a flexible work-space and includes areas for learning, potting, and sorting produce. The raised bed gardens on the Learning Farm will also provide small scale local growers a venue for selling crops and herbs through the YMCA Veggie Vans. Produce from the YMCA Veggie Vans is sold at affordable prices to residents living in Grand Rapids’ and Muskegons' most vulnerable neighborhoods, where access to fresh produce is limited.

Environmental Education & Gardening Programs for Youth

We understand the importance of allowing youth the opportunity to explore and maintain a connection with the environment, nature, conservation, and agricultural science.

The environmental education and curriculum-based educational gardening program is designed to educate youth and to nurture a sense of appreciation for our natural world and our environmental responsibilities.

Learning Farm