Ypsilanti nonprofit Growing Hope has partnered with The Farm at St. Joe's and Zilke Farm Kitchen to create the Ypsi Area Online Market, which offers one-stop online ordering and safe pickup of food from a wide variety of local farms and food businesses.
Cynthia VanRenterghem is executive director of Growing Hope, which normally organizes Saturday farmers markets in Depot Town and Tuesday markets in downtown Ypsi. She says the nonprofit was able to get the new online service up and running soon after the COVID-19 crisis hit because "we already had all these really rich relationships in the community, and so people responded really quickly."
Instead of visiting a farmers market and buying from multiple vendors in person, Ypsi-area shoppers can order items from multiple businesses through the Online Market between Thursday and Sunday for no- or low-contact pickup the following week.
Shoppers can see what items are available at one of three pickup sites: the Ypsilanti Farmers Marketplace, 16 S. Washington St. in Ypsi, from 4-7 p.m. Tuesdays; The Farm at St Joe's, 5557 McAuley Dr. in Ypsi, from 4-6 p.m. on Wednesdays; or Zilke Farm Kitchen, 1115 Dexter St. in Milan, from 2-5 p.m. on Fridays.
Items include traditional farmers market fare like fresh vegetables, fruit, and farm-raised eggs. Meal kits or prepared foods from Zilke's Farm Kitchen and other local businesses like Cultivate Coffee and Taphouse, Earthen Jar, and HumusFalafil are also on the product list. All of those businesses had some pre-existing relationship with Growing Hope, either as vendors at one of the nonprofit's Ypsilanti farmers markets or, in the case of Cultivate, roasting their coffee beans at Growing Hope's location on South Washington Street.
Dayna Popkey, Growing Hope's farmers market and nutrition manager, says organizers wanted to make sure prepared foods were available for health care workers, who would appreciate easy access to fast, healthy meals.
Shoppers can pick up items at their preferred location, and VanRenterghem says staff can put orders into shoppers' car trunks for no-contact delivery. They've also worked out a safe system for those who may want to walk or bike to their pickup location, she says.
The system operates on a platform called Local Food Marketplace. VanRenterghem says one of the main reasons Growing Hope chose the platform is that "it was one of the few out there that would allow us to accept SNAP and EBT benefits."
"We want to get the word out to Bridge Card holders that there's an option for local food and Double Up Food Bucks still," VanRenterghem says.
In the past, the Double Up Food Bucks program had a limit of $20 worth of expenditures, but that cap has been lifted. For every $1 of EBT spent on local foods, the shopper receives $1 of fresh fruit and veggies.
Participation by both shoppers and farmers has been "enthusiastic," VanRenterghem says. The first Tuesday the service was offered, the website collected 80 orders. By the next round of orders, shoppers nearly doubled the amount of money they spent on local food.
Though Growing Hope tentatively plans to reopen its regular farmers market on Saturdays, online orders for the Tuesday market are likely to continue even after the COVID-19 crisis is over, Popkey says.
"We spent time finding a platform that would work long-term, and that's been really successful so far," she says. "Members like it for a number of reasons, and it's bringing people to the online market who would otherwise not be able to (go to) the in-person market. The Tuesday market will be 100% online indefinitely."
More information about the online market is available at Growing Hope's website.
For more Concentrate coverage of our community's response to the COVID-19 crisis, click 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 email@example.com.
Photos courtesy of Growing Hope.