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Fostering Sustainability and Innovation in Agriculture
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Urban Farming and Food Access Org Grows Hope and Food in Ypsilanti, Michigan

August 24, 2016 |

Growing Hope trainees receiving wisdom from community gardeners. Photo courtesy of Growing Hope.

Growing Hope trainees receiving wisdom from community gardeners. Photo courtesy of Growing Hope.

Unbeknownst to the tens of thousands of students and professionals who pour into Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, Michigan yearly is that many of the citizens who call Ypsilanti home live in food desert — approximately one in three lives below the poverty line, and car ownership is low. Yet hope has come to this community in the guise of a seemingly unassuming converted 1930s farmhouse that harbors an educational powerhouse for the community in its backyard.

From its 1.4-acre site, the 501(c)3 organization Growing Hope operates hoop houses, a number of farmers’ markets, organizes more than 700 volunteers annually, works with state-run organizations and advocates on a national level to support and strengthen farmers’ markets.

“Our mission is improving lives and communities through healthy food access, and to that end […] we create policies that support small farms, independent food producers and organizations like ours, because it’s really a systemic problem,” says Tanya Andrews, development manager at Growing Hope.

“We run a working urban farm that’s a demonstration, a production and an education site, but we also do policy work. We’re coming at these problems from all of the different levels, because there are a lot of ways that you can build an ecosystem so that organizations and communities like ours can be successful. We are working to create and environment where everyone can thrive. Where healthy food is accessible to everybody. Where the support for that is coming from all directions.”

Funded primarily through grants and fundraisers, Growing Hope began with a vision of using school and community gardens as a vehicle for positive social, economic, environmental and neighborhood change.

Today, Growing Hope educates citizens of all ages through its leadership and youth workshops. Seed 2 Plate, a “farm to stomach” initiative, teaches young people gardening and growing skills—and then instructs them in cooking with the food they’ve grown. Through the Home Vegetable Garden program, low-income and food-insecure families in the Ypsilanti area apply for free raised garden beds, seeds and support: last year, through a partnership with Habitat for Humanity, Growing Hope installed three 3×3-foot beds at more than 30 homes. Annually, a half-dozen teens complete a “Veggucation Curriculum” through Growing Hope, being educated in gardening and nutrition and planning a curriculum for visiting area schools and other areas for youth.

When not conducting workshops or gardening education, Growing Hope works locally and nationally with farmers’ markets to help them improve healthy food access, and combat stereotypes.

“Running farmers’ markets for over a decade, we’ve got this good repository of knowledge,” says Tanya Andrews, development manager at Growing Hope. “We do surveys, we get a lot of information back from our customers and our vendors so that we can show, ‘This is the impact that a farmers’ market can have.’”

By providing viable numbers, Growing Hope believes that farmers’ markets can not only better serve their own communities but also break nationwide misconceptions.

“People are like, ‘Oh, a farmers’ market, that’s nice. That’s a place where rich people can buy their kale,’” says Andrews. “But when we look at it from a numbers perspective and from the impact it’s having on the community, it’s not just that. We can show the numbers of people who come to our markets who are low income. We accept SNAP, and food assistance benefits—a whole bunch of different kinds of currencies. And that’s a big part of why we do what we do: to make that accessible, because farmers’ markets are for everybody.”

As part of one of the first three farmers markets in Michigan to accept food assistance benefits, Growing Hope currently runs a downtown farmers market and one in Depot Town—areas of Ypsilanti where citizens have even greater challenges in obtaining access to healthy food. Growing Hope purposefully situated its farmers’ market so that, according to Andrews, the market could be “as accessible as possible to as many people in our community as possible.”

“Many people still have many barriers to getting to that healthy food, and healthy food should be for everyone,” says Andrews. “We really believe at Growing Hope that healthy food is a basic human right. The farmers’ markets are a big part of our mission to connect people with that.”

With a mobile market that started last year and a warehouse that is in the process of being converted into a year-round indoor/outdoor space for a farmers market and the community, Growing Hope is thriving in its mission of creating healthier communities—both now and into the future.

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