Growing Hope has expanded its mission of improving access to healthy food by creating an affordable rental space in downtown Ypsi, complete with a licensed incubator kitchen that can be rented by small food businesses.
The new space is inside Growing Hope's Robert C. Barnes Sr. MarketPlace Hall at the Ypsi Farmers Market, 16 S. Washington St. The new space was announced at about the same time Growing Hope's new executive director, Cynthia VanRenterghem, came on board. Founding director Amanda Edmonds retired from the nonprofit at the end of 2017, and Renterghem came on board May 29.
The hall is named after the head of the family-owned Barnes & Barnes property management business in Ypsilanti, who rented the South Washington space and later sold the two lots that now house the Tuesday farmers market and the rental venue to Growing Hope.
The hall has been remodeled so the entrance faces the existing farmers market plaza space, but a few more changes are yet to come. Administrative offices will be moved out of the back of the hall to create more storage space for food businesses, and the small building at the front of the lot, a former KeyBank drive-thru location, will become Growing Hope's Welcome Center.
The MarketPlace Hall will be able to seat 105 or accommodate 166 for a standing reception. The outdoor plaza where the farmers market is held can also be used as outdoor space when the venue is rented, and the building includes a conference room and a commercial kitchen that became fully licensed the first week of June.
Prices will range from $75-$125 per hour from November to March and $100-$150 per hour for the rest of the year.
Kristen Teasdale, Growing Hope's interim director of engagement, says the organization's staff did a lot of research on market rates to make sure the space was affordable. Rates will also be lower for those using the space for a series of events or for food tenants who use the commercial kitchen multiple times a week. That structure is meant to encourage Ypsi residents to use it as a community gathering place.
Getting the new rental space finalized is important, but VanRenterghem says she is eager to return to the organization's original focus: its urban garden that began as a teaching garden for Perry Childhood Development Center.
VanRenterghem is originally from Flint, though she spent about a decade out of the state. She ran a small garden products company with a partner, which was launched in 2007 and sold in 2015. She hopes to bring her business savvy and entrepreneurial mindset to Growing Hope.
"At this time in Growing Hope's life development, my focus will be on operations, financial management and people management, and strategic planning, as we're moving from more of a relationship-based organization to more of a mission-based foundation," she says, referring to the fact that many nonprofits are started by charismatic people who grow the organization by creating personal relationships.
Van Renterghem says Growing Hope's urban farm at 922 W. Michigan Ave. is still the organization's "center of gravity."
"Once we get the MarketPlace up and running, I want to shift back to that core and what can come out of it in terms of education and community access, … empowering the community with both the practical aspects and the regeneration aspects of gardening," she says. "To me, in a way, as we move forward, we are also getting back to what Growing Hope has always been."
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in southeast Michigan. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos by Sarah Rigg.