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#OTGYpsi: Creating an oasis in Ypsilanti Township's food desert


Concentrate Ann Arbor

Sarah Rigg's Feature Article: New grocery stores, farmers market, community garden address food access in Ypsi Township


West Willow Farmers Market 

WEMU: Ypsilanti Township confirms a new Aldi will be built in the community

MLive: Meat market set to open in iconic cow-topped Ypsilanti building


Cathy Shafran: You're listening to 89.1 WEMU. I'm Cathy Shafran and this is On The Ground Ypsi, a program intended to bring you the stories of the Ypsilanti community. We bring you On the Ground Ypsi in partnership with the reporting team at Concentrate Media. And today. Our focus is on what some call a food desert locally. Today I'm joined by concentrate media reporter Rylee Barnsdale, whose online news site is reporting this week on efforts to address the issue of food access in Ypsilanti Township. Rylee, thanks for being with us.

Rylee Barnsdale: Thanks for having me, Cathy.

Cathy Shafran: Rylee, can you tell me a little bit more about what we're learning in the Concentrate Media article this week?

Rylee Barnsdale: Yeah, so when you have reliable transportation, you don't always think about needing to get to a grocery store to feed yourself or your family for the week. And it is so important for everyone within our community here in Ypsi Township to have this reliable access to fresh and healthy foods. And our On the Ground project manager, Sarah Rigg, spoke with a lot of folks in the area that are doing a lot of work to make that possible for our community members that might not have reliable access right now.

Cathy Shafran: And what are some of the areas that they're working at trying to address?

Rylee Barnsdale: One area is the West Willow area of Ypsi Township, and there is a lot of work being done on the ground within the community with community members and especially with the youth in the community to create more food opportunities for their fellow community members.

Cathy Shafran: So, the farmer's market there.

Rylee Barnsdale: Right. And there is also a deal going on to open up an Aldi grocery store closer to that area, so that folks have better access to an affordable grocery store.

Cathy Shafran: And I believe a meat market somewhere as well.

Rylee Barnsdale: Yes, there is some in the works to connect the prime cuts meat market with the West Willow farmers market as well. So, not only will folks have access to nice fresh produce grown in their community, but also fresh proteins.

Cathy Shafran: In the report in Concentrate Media this week, Sarah Rigg actually talked extensively with Josh McAllister, who's co-founder of the nonprofit 2Marines, and he's also manager of the recently established Farmers Market in the West Willow neighborhood. And Josh is joining us now. Thanks so much for being with us, Josh.

Josh McAllister: Thank you for having me.

Cathy Shafran: Can you tell me about your interest why you feel so strongly? What is your background that drew you to this point that you said that you need to be the one that starts tackling the issue of food insecurity in the township? [

Josh McAllister: Oh, it's simple. A couple of years back, I, um, came from Clarkston, Michigan over to here, and I brought some chickens with me. And ,in West Willow, you couldn't have chickens. I didn't check the ordinances. I learned a valuable lesson. And then, my kids had nowhere to have fun and do things. And there was nothing for them to do. At that time, we didn't have a car to drive around. We couldn't go to many places. So, you try to show your kids, you know, some farming techniques that your grandparents passed down to you. And as you look around, you see people like we the people, which is Melvin Parks, and they have these big urban farms. You're like, "Man, that would be great," and West Willow brought people together, you know? And that's really what it's about: bringing people together seeing kids work on with the older generation.

Cathy Shafran: Tell me about the whole concept of the farmers market that that you got going.

Josh McAllister: So the, um, concept is trying to bring people together, family-looking farmers market. Being that it's a food desert, there's not too many big farmers, there's little, um, gardeners that are working in plants, and it's really a blue-collar style farmers market. And that was kind of the reason why I started it.

Cathy Shafran: And so how does it operate? It's biweekly, if I understand?

Josh McAllister: Twice a month. The first one should start on June 17th this year. We're pushing real hard to do pretty much the same schedule, probably ten events. It's really tough. It's only a few kids and me. And not only do we do the farmers market, we, you know, hand out food throughout the week on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and they work in the community garden hoping to double what the community garden is doing this year, so that we can have more produce to sell at the farmer's market because some proceeds will pay for the youth.

Cathy Shafran: You're listening to On the Ground Ypsi on 89 one WEMU. Just curious. Also, is this a year-round opportunity? Is your farmer's market a year-round?

Josh McAllister: I'm hoping that this year it's year-round.

Cathy Shafran: So, are you doing it in the winter months?

Josh McAllister: We are. We are taking on seniors that can't go and get their own produce and stuff like that. But I don't market it because I just don't have the capacity.

Cathy Shafran: Then the issue of food insecurity in Ypsilanti Township still has a way to go.

Josh McAllister: Absolutely, man.

Cathy Shafran: Now, do you have any data to show how this is impacting the local community in terms of their needs for food access without transportation?

Josh McAllister: Oh, yeah. We've been able to pull data by becoming a partner with SNAP. So, we have the first mobile EBT reader. And what that allowed us to do is people can come to us, and we go get the produce, so they utilize their EBT cards with us--SNAP benefits--and then we go and get their produce and keep the price down for them.

Cathy Shafran: This also addresses the issue of many people not having transportation as well. Is that correct?

Josh McAllister: Correct. In West Willow, it's surrounded by not only airport but on the right and left side, it's highways. And you want to go to a Kroger that's on Michigan Ave, you have to go across you have to take a bus there. If you don't have a car, you have to walk these three or four miles across a couple highways. What happens is the average age in West Willow is 55 and up, so. you know, most of the seniors are not doing that. They're getting Meals on Wheels, on delivery, and things of that nature. Going off of the Meals on Wheels model, we just did the same thing and brought the SNAP benefits. And all the vendors that come to the farmer's market soon will be they'll be able to go online and, you know, purchase all this stuff from those same vendors as we continue to set up and grow.

Cathy Shafran: And you have a connection with a meat supplier as well?

Josh McAllister: Yeah. So, the new, um, meat supplier down the street is on Ecorse. Prime Cuts is just coming into town. We hope to do the same thing we do with every other vendor in, and that's add them to the list, and, you know, allow people to be able to purchase their meat right there. And either I don't know if they will go there and pick them up or we'll bring all that to the farmers market or into West Willow. Transportation is a big issue for us in West Willow doing these community problems right now. I'm working with the township trying to get some vehicles for us to be able to transport this kind of amount of weight. You know, we're bringing in 50, 60 watermelons, you know, every two weeks. And that's a lot of weight. And, sometimes, we have to drive all the way down to Eastern Market at five in the morning and bring it all the way back. People can get these kinds of fresh fruits and veggies.

Cathy Shafran: Our On the Ground Ypsi conversation with Concentrate Media reporter Rylee Barnsdale and Josh McAllister from the West Willow Neighborhood Farmers Market are with us addressing food access in Ypsilanti Township. The conversation is continuing on 89 one WEMU. I was wondering, Josh, we're all hearing about the Aldi market that's scheduled to go into Ypsilanti Township. Is that an answer to much of the food desert issues that exist in the township?

Josh McAllister: It's hard to say. You know, I don't want to say it's not. I think anything that comes over in this area is great. I think the more resources that you put around people in West Willow have 6000 residents, you know, 4900 of them are 18 and up, and they have no gas station. They have eight churches. They have no grocery store. You know, when you go to Detroit, there's a little party store on every corner, and it doesn't have that. We have Dairy Mart, and it's at least 70 miles away from the West Willow and Sugarbrook area. So, I'm eager to see how it impacts community.

Cathy Shafran: And what do you see as the future for addressing issues of food insecurity in Ypsilanti Township in general? What still needs to be done beyond the efforts that you are making in your farmer's market, beyond the efforts of bringing the Aldi? What else do you feel needs to be addressed?

Josh McAllister: I think people need to just try farming, try and grow something, you know, that it's microgreens, that it's some corn in the back of your yard, you know, and everybody has to have this, you know, 50 different tomatoes or things. And, you know, they could do one thing and make it easy and fun for their family and by creating many, many gardeners. And, hopefully, there's a couple, you know, gardeners that want to become big farmers. And I think just teaching, telling the youth, you know, growing your own produce has benefits not only, you know, just for your family, but, you know, it's good for your mental health.

Cathy Shafran: We thank you. Josh McAllister, co-founder of 2Marines and manager of the West Willow Neighborhood Farmers Market and also Concentrate Media reporter Rylee Barnsdale. Thank you so much for joining us for On the Ground Ypsi.

Josh McAllister: Thank you.

Rylee Barnsdale: Thanks so much, Cathy.

Cathy Shafran: I'm Cathy Shafran. This is 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti. Public Radio from Eastern Michigan University and online at WEMU dot org.

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Cathy Shafran was WEMU's afternoon news anchor and local host during WEMU's broadcast of NPR's All Things Considered.
Concentrate Media's Rylee Barnsdale is a Michigan native and longtime Washtenaw County resident. She wants to use her journalistic experience from her time at Eastern Michigan University writing for the Eastern Echo to tell the stories of Washtenaw County residents that need to be heard.
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