St. Joe's Staff Farmer
After working on an organic farm in Manistee County and for a youth farming program at the Chicago Botanic Garden, he was tempted by a job with a Traverse City company that makes sailboat sails. But "I just love being part of the process of growing food," he says. "Even though farming seemed like it would be really tough and there was this sailboat job that would have given me benefits and health care, I wanted to keep trying."
So Bair became the first urban farm manager for Growing Hope, an AmeriCorps VISTA group in Ypsilanti that runs urban farming and nutrition education programs in schools, as well as managing the Ypsi farmers' market. And then one day, he recalls, he gave a tour of Growing Hope to Steve Thiry, a holistic physician he'd met in "the local food world"; Lisa McDowell, manager of inpatient clinical nutrition at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital; and Dave Raymond, St. Joe's planning director. They were gathering ideas for a farm they envisioned at the hospital. "That began a conversation which led to me coming on as a contractor, helping figure out what we were going to do here," Bair says. And that led to his being hired to manage St. Joe's farm, which now comprises about twenty-five acres and three hoop houses.
Most of its crops never leave the hospital campus. "We have integrated some basics into regular recipes," McDowell says. "You'll see tomatoes and herbs and garlic [in patient meals] all summer long, and occasionally radishes, carrots, and peppers. Over the winter months, you'll see kale, spinach, collard greens, and Swiss chard that we grow in the hoop houses."