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Growing Hope and the Downtown Farmers Market

Posted by ppna on June 19, 2008

My friend Chris sent me a wonderful article he wrote on the Downtown Farmers Market here in Ypsilanti. I learned more about what Growing Hope is doing and am more impressed than every with the job they are doing.

Taste of Ypsilanti’s Growing Hope

by Chris Berggren

Rachel Chadderdon moves from tent to tent, clipboard in hand, checking with each of the vendors as the downtown Ypsilanti farmers market, 2-6 p.m. each Tuesday, gets underway. Chadderdon is a University of Michigan graduate student and the farmers market manager for Growing Hope, the organization that two years ago brought the market to the Key Bank Center parking lot, at the intersection of Hamilton Street and Michigan Avenue.

Thirteen tents dot the pavement landscape this afternoon, down from 17 the week before, but Chadderdon thinks the forecast of rain may be the culprit. Indeed the cloud cover is heavy.

“It’s still early in the season, but we already have three more farmers starting in June,” Chadderdon says. “One guy with an orchard, and an Amish farmer, Danny Miller, we believe he’s starting at the end of June, but we don’t know for sure because he doesn’t have a phone. And there’s one other guy who sells a lot of sweet corn, so he might be more toward July.”

Even with the foreboding sky, the market is well represented. Local businesses such as the Ypsi Food Co-Op sell a variety of freshly baked breads and Zingerman’s has a booth selling same-day-packaged mozzarella and goat cheeses. They’re joined by a number of area growers. Amateur farmer Tony Scampa, who started his farmers market career selling handmade birdhouses has since added lettuce and spinach that he grows in his less than two acre plot in Bridgewater. This may be Scampa’s first year selling weekly at a farmers market, but Perry and Lelia Mackall are market veterans, who also sell at two Detroit markets and one in Highland Park.

“I’ve had businesses offer to buy every crop we harvest,” Perry confides, while munching on a stalk of rhubarb. “We enjoy attending markets, though; selling directly to the people.”
The Mackall’s have operated Pallet Garden Farms in Sumpter Township since 1992 and sell a variety of produce, as well as jars of specialty concoctions, like Perry’s Pumpkin Stew, which its creator mentions is “some good stuff.”

Originally, Growing Hope was a partner with the Ypsilanti Depot Town’s Saturday and Wednesday farmers market, but according to Chadderdon the organization started the Tuesday afternoon market in Ypsilanti’s downtown so it would be closer to its target population, the low-income residents of Ypsilanti’s subsidized housing.

Growing Hope President Amanda Edmonds founded the nonprofit in May of 2003, and this May the organization moved into its new center, a house on a 1.4 acre plot of land, located at 922 W. Michigan Ave. Edmonds is Growing Hope’s only full-time employee, the rest of the staff is comprised of Americore Vista members, graduate and undergraduate interns and volunteers. Growing Hope’s mission is to help people improve their lives and their communities through gardening. It specifically targets under-resourced and disadvantaged populations and offers classes and workshops, start-up and ongoing gardening assistance, a comprehensive tool library, and partnerships with other agencies and organizations. Currently, there are more than 25 gardens in Washtenaw County that are supported by Growing Hope.

“The farmers market has been our single biggest success in terms of visibility,” Edmonds says, adding that coordinating a farmers market was not an activity she anticipated being involved with when she started Growing Hope.

One of the innovative practices that Growing Hope has integrated into their farmers market is the use of EBT food stamps. According to Chadderdon, they are only the third farmers market in the state of Michigan to accept food stamps and that’s been a big part of their marketing push this year. EBT cards can be scanned at the Ypsi Food Co-Op tent and the cardholder is then issued green tokens that they can use as currency. In fact there are blue, orange and black tokens, too. The blue tokens are purchased with a Visa/MasterCard credit or debit card in the same manner, the orange are market dollar tokens and the black tokens are part of an initiative called Prescription For Health and are given away by free clinics around town. At the end of the market day the vendors turn their tokens in and are reimbursed. But the food stamp program just got even more progressive.
“Starting June 17, until we run out of them, we’ll be giving away $1 tokens for each EBT purchased token, up to $5,” Chadderdon explains. “It’s like a coupon token that we’ve got a state grant to pay for. They basically get to double their money when they use their EBT and so that’s going to convince them to try it. Other markets have tried this and they found that their EBT sales remained high, even after they stopped giving away the free tokens.”

Another initiative, that is planned for later this summer but has yet to have a date attached, is a day when backyard gardeners and people with plots in the community gardens will be invited to come sell at the market.

“We’ll have a big day when everyone can come and sell, just to get a taste of it,” Chadderdon says. “Cause I feel like selling at a farmers market isn’t something most people would think of doing on their own. But I think once they try it, it might put the idea into people’s heads, you know like, ‘Maybe next year I could plant a couple of extra tomato plants and go down there and make a few extra dollars.’ And then we end up with this population of people who are all growing a little bit of food; because the solution to the food shortage isn’t with big government initiatives and spending and subsidies, the solution’s just people learning to grow their own food again.”

Around a quarter to four, Kelsey Watson, an 8th grader at Lincoln High School, arrives to set up the Roots and Shoots table. Roots and Shoots is a youth program run through Growing Hope that champions both gardening and business. Watson and the other members of the program have made hand balm out of bee’s wax and almond oil to sell at the market. According to Terry Phillips Carpenter, one of Growing Hope’s two youth coordinators, the kids in Roots and Shoots took out a loan to pay for the ingredients necessary to make the hand balm, but they’ve since paid that loan off, reinvested the money, and now split the profits of their venture amongst themselves.

“Our program teaches them a bunch of different sorts of skills,” Phillips Carpenter says. “Entrepreneurial skills and how to work with the community, how to grow things, how to sell things, and how to track what they sell.”

Watson is a relative newcomer to the program, joining at the beginning of this session. She found out about Roots and Shoots when Growing Hope visited Eastern Michigan University Business School’s B-Side of Youth program.

Visiting schools and educating kids about gardening is part of the mission, says Phillips Carpenter. In fact earlier in the day he was at West Middle School helping kids plant a garden. The Roots and Shoots kids have a plot they tend at the Perry Child Development Center. Phillips Carpenter adds his support to them as well, but only with the gardening, not the decision-making.
“They’re gonna grow stuff to either sell here in bags or maybe they will make some sort of product out of them,” Phillip Carpenter says. “What we call value-added products.”
The market is now in full-swing and fortunately the weather is still cooperating. A sizable crowd is milling between the various tents. There is plenty of variety: from potted flowers and plants to pies and cookies to produce to grass-fed beef and buffalo meat to bottled honey and even beaded jewelry. There may only be 13 tents, but the market is diverse. Chadderdon is still making the rounds, checking that her vendors’ needs are looked after.

“We’ve done over $1,000 every week,” she says with a smile, “which is big for a market this size.”

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