Growing Hope marks 20th anniversary with affordable CSA shares, mushroom workshops, and more

The Ypsilanti-based, farming- and food-focused nonprofit is launching free and low-cost CSA shares and introducing community-led workshops.
When Julius Buzzard took over as executive director of the Ypsilanti-based nonprofit Growing Hope last year, he said he wanted to emphasize making it "more community-oriented."

Now, as the farming- and food-focused organization celebrates its 20th anniversary, it's making major changes including launching free and low-cost "solidarity" community supported agriculture (CSA) shares and introducing community-led workshops.

"I think it's important as an organization to empower the people who live here in Ypsilanti, to give them a voice," Buzzard says. 

One way Growing Hope is doing that is by hosting workshops taught by community members, rather than the nonprofit's staff, this year. Buzzard says that initiative is designed to "highlight that communal knowledge of Ypsilanti, and do it in a way that is equitable." 

"Making sure people get a stipend is an important part of that process, so they know the value of the work they're doing," he says.
Growing Hope Garden Manager Cristi Rodriguez-Alfaro.
All workshops are free and open to the public. Growing Hope Garden Manager Cristi Rodriguez-Alfaro says the program is proving popular, with almost all time slots for workshops spoken for already. She says anyone interested in future opportunities to offer a workshop can contact her at farmandgarden@growinghope.net.

"I was a little worried, just because it was something we'd not done before, and I was not sure how the response would be," Rodriguez-Alfaro says. "But it was definitely the right move. There are a lot of people in Ypsilanti with passions, and I think this is a way to get more directly involved with the community."

She says community members will offer workshops on topics ranging from foraging in your backyard to fermentation to beekeeping. Many of the programs will be held in locations other than Growing Hope's farm at 922 W. Michigan Ave. in Ypsi. For example, foraging classes will take place in Riverside and Frog Island parks.

"We've got a packed year of community members leading workshops on what they're most knowledgeable about," Rodriguez-Alfaro says.

The first workshop will be taught by Mel Havelka and Tonya Harris of Ypsilanti-based micro-mushroom farm Fungi Revival.
Mel Havelka and Tonya Harris of Fungi Revival at Growing Hope.
"Growing Hope's vision aligns with ours a lot," Havelka says. "At Fungi Revival, we also want to give people access to these nutritious forms of food and empower people to be able to grow their own. We want to create opportunities for people to cultivate a deeper relationship with food and the environment."

Their workshop for Growing Hope will focus on growing mushrooms on logs. But there are other mushroom cultivation methods, and Havelka says they may do another mushroom workshop later this summer.

Growing Hope has also launched a variety of partnerships with other local community groups. Peace House Ypsilanti hosts a free brunch on Growing Hope's farm on the third Sunday of each month. Growing Hope is also partnering with FedUp Ministries to launch a "community fridge" project, with at least one station in Ann Arbor and one in Ypsilanti.

"It's essentially a produce cart, but refrigerated," Buzzard says. Community members can access it around the clock, he says. Organizers will also build shelves around the fridge offering canned goods, free gloves in winter, and other items for those in need.

Redirecting energies

Farmers know that land must lay fallow to become revitalized and fertile again. This growing season will also bring a hiatus for Growing Hope's Tuesday farmers market. The nonprofit's Saturday farmers market in Depot Town will continue as usual.

The move was based on a negative cycle where there weren't enough vendors to attract shoppers. Shoppers dwindled as a result, and then even fewer vendors showed up. Buzzard says all stakeholders were consulted about the change.

"It was not an easy decision," Buzzard says. "We had conversations with people at both farmers markets and all the vendors."
Reinhart Charitable Foundation volunteer day at Growing Hope.
However, the change will allow Growing Hope staff to focus on several other projects, including their online market, which is growing in popularity. They'll also bring back the indoor winter market that has been out of commission since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Another new direction is offering "solidarity shares" in a new CSA. Growing Hope is developing a new plot on its urban farm, and the produce from this new area will be offered in a weekly distribution to those who sign up.

"The idea is making sure fresh produce is available to anyone, regardless of financial or systemic barriers," Buzzard says.

The solidarity share runs for 20 weeks beginning May 23, 2023.  The full price of a share is $500, but members can choose other amounts using a sliding scale. Buzzard says it's totally self-directed and no one will be verifying any participant's income. 
Growing Hope executive director Julius Buzzard.
"It's just 10 quick questions so they will think about their own wealth and relationship with money, to help them determine their rate," Buzzard says. 

Participants can choose to receive the share for free. Those using SNAP benefits can purchase a share for $5 through a partnership with the Michigan Fitness Foundation. Others can pay some fraction of the cost, the full cost, or even more than $500, to help defray the cost for others. 

Buzzard says Growing Hope has already sold its maximum of 36 shares, and participants have bought in at all levels. 

In addition to these new programs, the public is invited to help Growing Hope celebrate its 20th anniversary with a party May 21 at 4 p.m. The event will include food courtesy of FedUp, tours of the farm, activities for children including a bounce house, and a natural dye workshop. See details here.

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

All photos by Doug Coombe.
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