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#OTGYpsi: Growing Hope Urban Farm in Ypsilanti celebrates 20th anniversary


Concentrate Ann Arbor

Sarah Rigg's Feature Article: Growing Hope marks 20th anniversary with affordable CSA shares, mushroom workshops, and more

Growing Hope

Growing Hope Urban Farm

Gathering in the Garden: Celebrate Growing Hope's 20th Birthday


Cathy Shafran: You are listening to 89.1 WEMU. I'm Cathy Shafran, and this is On the Ground Ypsi. It's 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 some big changes for the Ypsilanti-based nonprofit Growing Hope. It's a program that's an advocate for just food systems. Today, I'm joined by Concentrate Media reporter Rylee Barnsdale, whose online news site is reporting this week on the 20th anniversary of Growing Hope with some major changes in store, including cutting out some longstanding programs but adding some exciting new programs at the same time, like mushroom foraging and beekeeping. Rylee, thanks so much for being with us.

Rylee Barnsdale: Thanks, Cathy.

Cathy Shafran: Rylee, we already know about the reach of Growing Hope with its farm that produces thousands of pounds of produce each year that is given away and also sold in the Ypsilanti area. We know about their youth programs, teen employment, their farmers' market, and also their incubator kitchen that lets entrepreneurs try to get their start in the food industry. But I'm wondering, Rylee, what are we learning in the Concentrate Media article that was written this week by Sarah Rigg?

Rylee Barnsdale: So, Sarah's article is all about the up-and-coming new things happening with Growing Hope. And Growing Hope has a mission to foster a sustainable local food system for folks that maybe don't always have access to healthy, nutritious, maybe even locally grown foods. And they have a vision of Ypsi as a community where folks can not only access those foods, but also can make a living if they want, growing their own foods and selling them, which is very apparent in these new programs that they are going to be offering through things like solidarity shares, which are available to folks to receive food that's grown by Growing Hope each week. And they're also able to pay it forward to others in the community if they can't afford fresh produce every week, as well as focusing on things like their online market. So, for folks that maybe don't have the ability to come out to the farmers' market or to the farm, they can also order their produce online and have it delivered or be able to pick it up.

Cathy Shafran: I understand, in the article, the focus is on the 20th anniversary that's coming up in May.

Rylee Barnsdale: That's right.

Cathy Shafran: And also, some significant changes that are going to happen in this, the 20th year.

Rylee Barnsdale: That's right. So, one big change is that Growing Hope held a farmers' market every week on Tuesdays. They are going to be phasing that out in order to focus on some of those newer programs as well. And they want to make sure that they are responding to the needs of the community. And, as of late, the needs of the community have been more so about other sort of programming regarding growing your own food or other produce, as well as having other means of accessing those products and services that they provide.

Cathy Shafran: Now, in the report in Concentrate Media this week, Sarah talked extensively with Julius Buzzard, who is the new executive director of Growing Hope, and Julius is actually joining us right now. Thanks so much for being here.

Julius Buzzard: Absolutely, Cathy.

Cathy Shafran: So, first of all, welcome to the new position. Congratulations on that. And as you step into the new position and you step into the 20th year of Growing Hope, you see some new possible directions. Can you explain what you're looking at?

Julius Buzzard: Yeah, absolutely. So, you know, coming into this role, but really looking at Growing Hope as being, as you said, a 20-year organization here in Ypsilanti, we have just, like, unique spaces, unique opportunities for us to look at the way that we're supporting community, to really take a hold of the food system, and redefine how we interact with food justice and food sovereignty with each of our programs.

Cathy Shafran: Can you explain for those not familiar with Growing Hope, what the program and what the system is all about that you believe in and what you have been able to provide to the community in the Ypsilanti area over the past 20 years?

Julius Buzzard: Absolutely. So, at Growing Hope, we have four program areas. One of the biggest is probably the farm itself. So, on Michigan Avenue, we have an urban farm. It's about an acre-and-a-half, and we use that for a lot of education through volunteer days, workshops. And all of the produce that's grown at the farm goes directly back into the community.

Cathy Shafran: How is that? How does it go back into the community?

Julius Buzzard: In the past, it's been primarily through donations to other organizations, which are going to continue this year. We have close partnerships with Fed Up Ministries and Peace House here in Ypsi, as well as our free produce cart which sits in front of the farm. This year, we are adding solidarity shares, which is a way for people to purchase a CSA. So, at the beginning of the season, a CSA, essentially, is a share of the farm. Generally, people will invest usually about $500 in exchange for receiving a box of produce every week for 20 or so weeks. The way that we're running our CSA this year is people can invest in it on a sliding scale, but everybody else has an opportunity to sort of self-assess and determine for themselves what is a meaningful and helpful price for them.

Cathy Shafran: You're also looking at some new and other exciting programs to engage the community this year. Can you tell me about those?

Julius Buzzard: Yeah. So, like I said, we really want to exist and to amplify what's happening in the community and to be a platform for folks who might not have a platform. And so, the way that we're doing workshops this season is completely through community members who have their own interests, abilities, passions around farming and gardening and gardening and building. So, some of those are, like, we just had our first one, which was...Fungi Revival came and did a mushroom log workshop. And people who came were able to leave with a mushroom log, so they could grow for themselves. I know we're having a beekeeping workshop sometime this summer, some foraging workshops. On May 21st, we're going to be holding the birthday party at the farm. It's at Michigan Avenue--922 West Michigan Avenue--at Growing Hope Urban Farm. During that, it's really just a gathering of folks to celebrate and enjoy. We'll have food there, a bounce house. We're going to be doing some natural dyeing, as part of a workshop, and rock painting for kids, and it's also just an opportunity to see the farm. You know, we really love having people on the farm. It's a really fun place to be. And once you're on it, you don't want to leave.

Cathy Shafran: Our On the Ground Ypsi conversation about Growing Hope's 20th Anniversary continues on 89.1 WEMU. This is also at a time we're thinking about cutting back on at least one program that you've had. And what was that?

Julius Buzzard: That's the Ypsilanti Farmer's Markets. For the past three years, Growing Hope has managed three farmers' markets: two that are in-person and one that's online. The online market was our biggest pivot during 2020, and it ran at the same time as our downtown Tuesday farmers' market.

Cathy Shafran: And you are going to be scaling back one of the in-person farmer's markets. Is that correct? Which one?

Julius Buzzard: The Tuesday in-person farmers' market. We're going to have it on hold for this season, so we can do more investment in the online farmers' market and, hopefully, think about things like what effective delivery might look like or just letting people know that exists more as well as doing an in-person winter market that would be inside.

Cathy Shafran: These are some of the changes that are in store for this year. As you begin your new leadership of Growing Hope, what are your hopes and expectations for future years?

Julius Buzzard: Really, I think it just comes back down to thinking about how we can continue to find ways to empower the community and to have conversations around food justice and food sovereignty, how we can, you know, work with the city and thinking about how people can really effectively grow for themselves, you know, if they want to and, if they're not able to, how they can have access to fresh local produce. And so, thinking through our partnerships with other organizations to bring a community fridge into our downtown space, which would be a refrigerator similar to our produce cart, and just thinking through how we can make our local food system more sustainable, even outside of food assistance, because we, a few months ago, the pandemic-related food assistance was cut. And we are seeing greatly how that's affected families who are, you know, all of a sudden, losing hundreds of dollars a month.

Cathy Shafran: So, from your vision, there is a need, especially in the Ypsilanti community, to support people with produce options that perhaps aren't available to them in an affordable way.

Julius Buzzard: Mm hmm.

Cathy Shafran: And how many people do you believe you serve?

Julius Buzzard: It's a hard question. You know, like, our produce car and even the farmers' markets, you know, we see usually around 700 to 900 people a week at farmers' markets. But we don't know how many of them are returners, how many are coming for the first time, and so on. I mean, I really think that it's, for us, the best measure of the work that we do is through story. You know, earlier this year, I met with a young man who was a part of a program that Growing Hope administered probably 15 years ago. And he was just telling me about his experiences at Growing Hope. He wanted to see the farm, he wanted to see the farmers' market, and know how things have gone. And in conversation, I just asked him "What stuck with you as he left Growing Hope?" And he said. "Because of Growing Hope, I'm never going to go hungry." And that's really the work that we're about. And that's something that he can have for himself and something that he's passing on to his children and to his community and really building a sense of generational health.

Cathy Shafran: A great story. Has he returned?

Julius Buzzard: He has. Yeah. He came back, and he'll hopefully be at the celebration on the 21st to hang out with other people who've been a part of the programs over the past 20 years.

Cathy Shafran: And you would like to hear more stories like his. I'm sure.

Julius Buzzard: Absolutely!

Cathy Shafran: Thank you so much. Julius Buzzard, the new executive director of Growing Hope and Concentrate Media reporter Rylee Barnsdale. Thanks so much for joining us for On the Ground Ypsi.

Rylee Barnsdale: Thanks, Cathy.

Julius Buzzard: Thank you, Cathy.

Cathy Shafran: Thank you. I am Cathy Shafran, and this is 89.1 WEMU FM, Ypsilanti. It's public radio from Eastern Michigan University. And online at WEMU.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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