Ypsilanti Township-based We the People Growers Association (WTPGA) is branching out with a new nonprofit arm, a $50,000 challenge match campaign, and a major honor for its founding farmer.
WTPGA, which began as a sustainable farming initiative aiming to employ formerly incarcerated people, recently launched its educational nonprofit arm, We the People Opportunity Center (WTPOC).
Plans for the nonprofit include a farm and a community hub with space for produce processing and packaging, a horticulture lab, a culinary arts facility, and classroom space.
WTPGA and WTPOC founder Melvin Parson says his vision is to provide training in organic farming, continuing education around food and nutrition, mentoring and paid internships, and other job opportunities.
WTPOC will get up and running with help from the challenge match campaign, which had raised nearly $20,000 at press time. St. Joseph Mercy Health System will match all funds raised through March 8 up to $50,000. Most of the money raised in the match campaign will go to infrastructure needs, Parson says.
"We want to build hoop houses and a pole barn. ... We need electrical, water, insurance, and money to hire two returning citizens part-time," he says.
He adds that he'd like to create an educational component in partnership with Ypsi's alternative school, Achieving Career and College Education (ACCE).
Parson says St. Joe offered to be the matching partner for the campaign after Elisabeth Vanderpool, director of community health for St. Joseph Mercy's Ann Arbor and Livingston hospitals, heard him speak at an event. She noticed that Parson's goals were aligned with St. Joe's mission and values around food and health.
Parson's vision is to establish WTPOC's physical location on the grounds of the former Kettering Elementary School in Ypsi Township, but he is still in talks about that location. He says he has a "Plan B" if that location doesn't work out.
Parson was also recently chosen as the first "Entrepreneur in Residence" for a new program at The Henry Ford, funded through the William Davidson Foundation for Entrepreneurship.
Parson started as the program's first entrepreneur in residence in January and will work with The Henry Ford for a total of six months. He'll lead at least two workshops as well as help coordinate a farmers market this summer at The Henry Ford.
"That opportunity is truly amazing in that people would think enough of me to offer something like that to me," Parson says.
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She has served as innovation and jobs/development news writer for Concentrate since early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to Driven. You may reach her at email@example.com.
Photo by Brad Perkins.