Who’s growing food in Ypsi? Find out on our virtual tour. Meet local growers and garden-to-table educators and see what they’re up to this summer on our visit to local farms and gardens that are growing food for restaurants, teaching kids about healthy food, increasing food equity, and more.
MEET MELVIN PARSON
Melvin Parson started gardening in 2014 at Avalon Housing when his friend Verna sadly passed away and left him her garden plot. He didn’t know what he was doing but he felt her spirit and wanted to honor her by taking care of it. Out of a desire to start taking care of himself, he went to the farmer’s market to learn more about vegetables. While looking around Melvin noticed that the majority of vendors and visitors did not look like him. So he started to think about how he could really empower the Black community through farming.
Our mission is to break the cycle of incarceration in Washtenaw County by investing in the employment and development of formerly incarcerated men and women through farming and community engagement.
Radically Inclusive: Including everyone, especially accepting and accommodating people who have historically been excluded (due to their race, gender, sexuality, or ability). We honor different identities, ideas and experiences and invite everyone, especially those who have historically been excluded, into the pursuit of our mission.
Intentionally Collaborative: We cannot meet our mission without you. We invite you into our work. We value the power of collective thinking and impact, even when it is challenging.
Courageously Disruptive: In all that we do we will stretch ourselves and those we work alongside to challenge the Prison Industrial Complex.
Rooted in Justice: We work vigorously for freedom and justice for formerly incarcerated Black, Indigenous, Latinx, People of Color and, by extension, all incarcerated people.
Committed to Growth: We will steward all our resources with integrity, love, and respect for the earth. This in turn, fuels our belief that all living things when nurtured in good soil, given sun, and water will flourish
MEET BROTHER NOAH RUCKER
Brother Noah assumed the task of managing the Parkridge Community Garden in 2017. Since then, he has created a second plot, an herb garden, and a fence made of branches and twigs.
His goal is to educate and empower kids and families in the neighborhood about healthy, natural food and living, and his success has become a model for other communities. He also teaches yoga at the Parkridge summer camp.
In 2015, Melvin Parson created a community garden for Parkridge on city-owned land next to Parkridge Community Center after the center’s community development manager, Anthony Williamson, decided the empty lot should be put to good use. Both social workers, Parson was Williamson’s intern at the time, and it just so happened that Williamson’s idea to create the garden aligned perfectly with Parson’s passion for gardening.
Parson managed the Parkridge Community Garden for two years until he had the opportunity to begin laying the foundation for his farm at Grace Fellowship. But he says he wanted to make sure the community garden didn’t die when he moved on. Parson, who is Black, says he also wanted to make sure that the garden would be enhanced by someone who looks like him.
Excerpt from Ypsi Kingdom Builders aim to spread gardens and healthy living throughout the Ypsi area by Brianna Kelly.
WILLOW RUN ACRES
MEET T.C. COLLINS
For twelve years, T.C. Collins has been working with area schools in Ypsilanti, Michigan, to teach kids about growing potatoes and other crops through practice. His efforts started humbly through a science project for his daughter in which they gave her classroom 10 potatoes to plant and grow. “I asked the kids if they knew where potatoes came from and they said, ‘McDonald’s,’ Collins recalled. “Then I asked if they knew where tomatoes came from and they said, ‘ketchup.’ That’s when we came up with the idea.”
Collins manages more than 20 small gardens and farms in southeast Michigan and into Ohio in addition to running Willow Run Acres. Uri Coward and he run the Willow Ann Ypsi 4-H, a community-focused initiative that provides farming instruction. And his kids have a seed bank at Chapelle!
At Willow Run Acres, we teach gardening and farming for all skill levels, we offer basic, beginning, intermediate and advanced training, and we provide friendly and encouraging consultations for individuals, groups, businesses and families.
Growing Hope’s paid Summer Teen Program provides teens with an opportunity to develop interpersonal, leadership, and job skills while learning gardening and nutrition concepts and gaining an understanding of food justice work and getting paid. This is an 8-week program open to Ypsilanti high school aged youth, ages 14-18. Watch their website for opportunities to apply!
MEET BEE AYER
Bee is the Director of Programs and Operations at Growing Hope. In 2003, Growing Hope became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization focused on school garden development throughout Ypsilanti. Since then, they have expanded to strengthen and foster a local food system where people of all ages could be empowered to grow, sell, buy, and prepare nourishing food.
In 2006, they started the downtown Ypsilanti Farmers Market and began managing the Depot Town Farmers Market in 2013. In 2008, the Growing Hope Center and Urban Farm were established to The Ypsilanti Farmers MarketPlace and Growing Hope Incubator Kitchen were completed in 2018 to better support farmers and food entrepreneurs to participate in the local food system.
Growing Hope fosters an equitable and sustainable local food system where all people are empowered to grow, sell, buy, prepare, and eat nourishing food.
Ypsilanti is a community where all people–particularly those with barriers due to race, class, culture, language, ability, and mobility–have access to nourishing local food that is culturally appropriate and affordable, can grow and prepare their own harvests, and may earn a living as a food grower, producer, or entrepreneur.
YDL-WHITTAKER LEARNING GARDEN
All of three of YDL’s locations have learning gardens most summers. Molly started the garden at YDL-Whittaker several years ago and in 2019 she was able to expand and improve the garden with money from two grants.
She is passionate about providing ways for kids to learn and explore nature, gardens, and healthy eating. In addition to running the garden, she also coordinates Summer Meet Up and Eat Up for the Whittaker location every year. And she collaborates with other garden educators in our area at monthly meetings that include some of the people who run the gardens and farms in this story and people at the Ypsilanti Community Schools.
TRANSFORMING HEALTH CARE
St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor seeks new and innovative ways to improve health and wellness. The Farm serves our community by improving access to fresh food, nutrition education, and therapy.
The Farm at St Joe’s Hospital has partnered with Hope Clinic and Jewish Family Services to deliver a big bag of Michigan fruits and vegetables and a box of pantry-staples (pasta, rice, beans etc) to your house for 6 weeks. The produce is sourced from local farms as well as through Cherry Capital Foods. The pantry-staples are provided by our local food bank, Food Gatherers.
We grow a healthy community by empowering people through food, education, and relationships.
We live our mission by…
- Nourishing minds, bodies, and spirit: We rejuvenate our community!
- Producing diverse and delicious food: We connect people to their food from seed to stomach!
- Educating at the intersection of health, agriculture and sustainability: We make curiosity cool again!
- Cultivating purposeful relationships for community health: We are better together!
Here in Michigan, many local farmers deliver crops to local markets roughly nine months out of the year. Specifically, the summer months of July and August are particularly fruitful (no pun intended) periods for many of our favorite vegetables and fruits. During these months, beans, blueberries, cherries, cucumbers, peaches, peppers and strawberries are all harvested and shipped to local marketers and then directly to your tables.
For this week’s writing activity, let’s take a look at the journey from seed, to plant, to kitchen, to meal, and see if you can create your own eventful and/or fantastical, fun journey on how the ingredients of some of your favorite meals find their way from the farm and into your belly.
Hear the book Before We Eat: from farm to table read aloud!
Find more family Farm and Garden to Table activities from PBS YouTube.
Read one of our many gardening books to learn more!