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Food for Change

Growing Hope fights for food justice

by Maggie McMillin

Published in July, 2020

This spring, Ypsilanti food justice organization Growing Hope made a lot of adjustments. Under normal circumstances they would have been preparing their urban farm for volunteers and launching the Depot Town and Downtown Farmers Markets that they manage. But after assessing the community's needs, they closed their farm to the public and focused on donating produce to local food pantries. To address a Covid-related uptick in hunger and food insecurity, "we changed how we grew our food this year in order to be able to donate more," says assistant director Erica Bloom.

In addition to donating produce, Growing Hope has also been providing free seedlings and compost to Ypsilanti residents. With more people home and gardening, "there's a big need in our community to have more accessible food and to be able to grow it ourselves," says Bloom. The community compost pile has been particularly popular this year. So has Growing Hope's Home Vegetable Garden Program, which supplies low-income residents with free raised bed gardens and gardening supplies.

But there's a lot more to Growing Hope's mission than donating food or providing seedlings. The organization wants to ensure that all Ypsilanti residents can participate in the local food system, and that everyone can enjoy healthy and sustainably raised food, regardless of race, class, or physical ability. "It's about having people take agency and ownership of their own food choices," Bloom emphasizes.

Their eight-week Summer Teen Program employs twelve Ypsilanti teens to work on the organization's farm and teaches them leadership skills around gardening and cooking. "Every week they're going home with a bag of fresh produce that they've learned how to harvest and cook," says Bloom.

Growing Hope also funds and manages the Saturday Depot Town Market June through October, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. And it's partnering with the Farm at St. Joe's and Zilke Farm Kitchen in the new Ypsi Area Online Market. Both markets accept EBT and Double Up Food Bucks.

Growing Hope's

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mission, explains Bloom, is to "foster more equitable and sustainable food systems." This means examining the types of inequalities that lead to food insecurity and injustice. "So much of our work has to do with systemic problems. We're not just a gardening organization. We're trying to get to the roots of health disparities in our county and in Ypsilanti."

Growing Hope is accepting a small number of volunteers to help at the farmer's market and on the farm. The organization also welcomes monetary donations. Beyond this, Bloom encourages Washtenaw County residents to read up on the ways in which "food justice, Covid, and racial inequities intersect." The organization's Facebook page recommends several educational resources on these topics.

"It's important to expose racial inequities in our county and examine how access to food can address those inequities," says Bloom. "That's something that Growing Hope is working towards making more explicit in our work. And it's something that people can prioritize as they learn about our work."     (end of article)


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