Growing Hope plans to expand tool lending library in Ypsi

Growing Hope will have a larger library space and a more sophisticated lending system to allow more Ypsi residents to utilize the resource.
As part of its mission to empower everyone to access nourishing food, Ypsilanti nonprofit Growing Hope is expanding the reach of its tool lending library. The resource has been available for the past few years, but Growing Hope's urban farm is collaborating with the Washtenaw County Conservation District (WCCD) to provide additional hand tools and larger farming equipment to local community gardens, hobby farmers, school sites, and more.

Growing Hope Farm Manager Christopher Hallett explains that the tool lending library at 922 W. Michigan Ave. in Ypsi has been available to the public since its opening, but the farm hasn’t always had the capacity to advertise it. He says that while anyone could have come to the farm to check out tools like shovels, the hope in reinvigorating the library this spring is that Growing Hope will have a larger library space and a more sophisticated lending system to allow more Ypsi residents to utilize the resource.

"I’ve looked at other tool lending libraries in the States or other countries, and they usually also start as grassroots," Hallett says. "It’s pretty impressive how they explode into an entire library with tools for lots of different purposes. The organic way they grow is pretty cool."
The Growing Hope tool lending library.
Hallett says that in the past, the lending library has been primarily used by community gardeners to ensure these growers have access to tools they may not otherwise be able to access or afford. Some tools have been donated by community members, but many of them have been purchased by the Growing Hope team based on responses to the nonprofit's regular newsletter. Hallett hopes to also provide other resources through the library, based on community need, along with the already available farming equipment.

"I would like to have as many agricultural tools as what would be needed, but I’ve worked here for a year and a half and I’ve jumped five cars in the vicinity. We have a jumper, and I want to put that in the library," Hallett says. "Nobody has said that they need one, but based on what I've seen, people need it."

Julius Buzzard, executive director at Growing Hope, says the farm hasn’t always had the capacity to lend out tools en masse. Both Buzzard and Hallett want for the library to start out small and grow organically based on need, but Buzzard says Growing Hope staff are also hard at work making sure they have the space to store their library of tools and the volunteer capacity to maintain the library.
Growing Hope Executive Director Julius Buzzard.
"In my time here, we didn’t have a dedicated space for tools in the lending library, so we are rebuilding one of our sheds to authorize it as our lending library where everything is cataloged and can be checked out," Buzzard explains. "We hope to open by Earth Day, but we also want to make sure we make our necessary infrastructural space and a system that makes sense for people to sign up and reserve tools."

That system is still being determined, but Growing Hope is considering one method used by WCCD, its frequent collaborator, which has offered its own tool lending library for several years. WCCD uses a tool reservation system that is set up like an online store. WCCD Resource Specialist Doug Reith says WCCD's collaboration with Growing Hope is another way to further both organizations' missions.

"Growing Hope is really well established in the area through providing community supported agriculture, education, [and] farmers markets, and we [focus on] kind of a broader picture of supporting agriculture and conservation throughout the county," Reith says. "Supplying good quality food is out of our scope of what we do, but we want to continue to support [Growing Hope] by providing tools and our own system."
WCCD Resource Specialist Doug Reith.
Reith says there will be some overlap between the tools WCCD and Growing Hope have to offer, and those tools will be cross-listed through WCCD’s tool reservation website. Reith hopes the collaboration will get more Ypsilanti residents interested in conservation and agricultural efforts by providing access to tools that they may not have funds to purchase, or space to store, themselves.

"[When] folks move into a space or they are renters, they don’t own tools, but want to take care of their yard," Reith says. "We want to provide resources to everyone no matter what they have available to afford. If they want to engage, we want to support them so they can."

Buzzard sees the reignition of Growing Hope’s tool lending library as "essential" to the organization's mission of sustainability and access to healthy food. He says Growing Hope's partnership with WCCD has allowed him and his staff to learn more about how best to provide this resource to the community. Although the project is starting small, Buzzard and his team see great potential for this resource to enable more Ypsi residents to begin growing their own food.
Doug Reith, Christopher Hallett, Julius Buzzard, and Rebecca Mackey at Growing Hope.
To keep up to date on the Growing Hope tool lending library and when it officially opens, follow Growing Hope on Facebook and Instagram, or sign up for Growing Hope's newsletter on its website

"This is a very clear way to help our community and give them tools and resources and knowledge to grow food in their own context," Buzzard says. "I think this is a way to erase some barriers to growing food for folks and bring people into growing food in new ways, and I’m really excited about seeing how this supports our local community of growers."

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.

All photos by Doug Coombe.
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