Late fall is drawing to a close and the landscape is headed into hibernation, but the Growing Hope Urban Farm and Ypsilanti Farmers MarketPlace are abuzz with activity. Whether it’s our teens working on next year’s crop plan, our volunteers packing local food for the online market, or our kitchen full of food entrepreneurs – there is little sign of hibernation around here – and your support makes it all possible.

You are part of the passionate, inspiring community that is Growing Hope, and it is through everyday interactions that real transformation takes place. So I wanted you to hear directly from a sampling of Growing Hope community members to understand what your support means to them.

Shareden Sweet Confections is one of 15 food businesses currently using the Growing Hope Incubator Kitchen. Earlier this year, your donations helped complete an expansion to the kitchen, creating more space and support to aspiring Washtenaw County entrepreneurs.

“A highlight of being a maker in the Growing Hope Incubator kitchen is not just that it’s a functional kitchen with storage and equipment, but the kitchen puts you in the midst of an environment where there’s community gathering, there’s opportunity to sell here, and there’s opportunity to collaborate – it’s just that a community feel is here.” – Sharon Johnson

Your gift of $25, $100, or $500 means we can expand our incubator kitchen programming to support aspiring food makers as they unlock their entrepreneurial dreams.

Cassandra has been leading our youth programming for over two years and focuses primarily on our year-round teen program as well as our Farm to School work in the Ypsilanti Community Schools.

“Every time I work with our teens, I’m inspired by their passion and visions for a better future. They are the most remarkable group of young people I’ve ever worked with–they aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty shoveling compost or to stand up in front of a group of third graders to lead a field trip on our urban farm. They are dedicated to being part of the solution, of building communities that center their relationship to food, the planet, and their neighbors.”- Cassandra Van Dam

Esha joined Growing Hope as the new Youth Programs Coordinator in June and her educational work is focused primarily on pre-school to middle school aged youth.

“On our urban farm I have witnessed the kind of land-based joy that children seem to naturally tap into, such as the joy that comes with opening a scarlet runner bean pod to see the mesmerizing purple and pink inside. Or the joy that comes with planting your own seed and watching it sprout. The joy that comes with learning how to make your own delicious salad dressing with basic pantry ingredients, and realizing you can share this skill at home.” – Esha Biswas

Because of your support, Cassandra and Esha work as a team to guide youth to understand where their food comes from, their connection to the land, and their role in creating a food system based on justice and equity.

Your gift of $50, $250, or $1000 means we can continue our year-round teen program, offer field trips at no cost to Ypsilanti families, and work with middle school students to implement and expand a school gardening program.

Harry started out as a volunteer for Growing Hope, but he has become such an indispensable member of our team – both on the farm and at the farmer’s markets – that we were thrilled to have him enroll in a wage support program through AARP.

“I heard about Growing Hope from the VA and that was just about 2 years ago. Before coming on, I had almost lost my social skills and I wasn’t used to being around people. Growing Hope was a great re-entry point for me.

My favorite thing about working with Growing Hope is the people. I just really enjoy talking to everybody – the people passing by the farm or stopping at the Community Produce Cart, and of course the staff and volunteers. To anyone who wants to volunteer, I’d say Growing Hope is a good place to start because there are so many different things you can help with and it’s all so needed.” – Harry Palka

Your donation of $25, $100, or $500 is an investment in our community spaces and means we can offer a built-in social avenue and a meaningful way for local residents to be involved with our work.

Tyrone has been active with our longest running program, the Home Vegetable Garden program. He has been both a participant and a mentor to other participants. He has a deep commitment to increasing food security in Ypsilanti and has helped countless families overcome barriers to growing their own food.

“I’ve been involved with Growing Hope since it started and I come back because I love to garden and watch fresh vegetables grow. I’ve been getting my hands dirty for many years. I’ve encouraged my friends and family to garden and they love it. When I started in this program I imagined an Ypsi where everyone has a raised bed in their yard. I still have that hope!” – Tyrone Bridges

The Home Vegetable Garden program supports hundreds of residential gardeners in Ypsilanti. With season-long mentors to guide their first year of gardening, and access to our annual seedling distributions, so that community members who have been historically excluded can experience the many benefits of home gardening.

Your contribution of $50, $250, or $1000 means that more residents can enjoy the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of home gardening.

Toiya, owner of The Planted Life, sells her beautiful plants through our partnership with Jewish Family Services, who gave her a small business grant that includes access to our farmers markets.

“The Ypsi Farmers Market is great. The markets helped build my following on social media. People come to the farmers markets, they walk with their kids in their strollers in the rain just to tell me the plant they bought last week is growing. People are very responsive. My business has been growing very quickly but organically.” – Toiya Etchison

Your gift of $25, $100, or $500 is essential to our seasonal outdoor farmers markets and year-round online market, which together support over 50 farmers and food makers in the local food economy.

This year, we joined our community partners to launch the Washtenaw County Black Farmer Fund (WCBFF). As a founding member, Growing Hope shares a hope with all coalition members that this fund will foster generational and structural change to the land-based inequities in and around Washtenaw County. Many of you contributed to the WCBFF campaign and we are grateful for the campaign’s success.

The voices featured in this letter are just a snapshot of the people who make up the fabric of this organization. As a Growing Hope supporter, you are essential to a community committed to a more equitable and just local food system that facilitates a healing relationship with the land and each other. I am grateful you are on this journey with us.

With Gratitude,

Cynthia VanRenterghem
Executive Director