When folks ask me how long I’ve been with Growing Hope, I have a hard time coming up with an answer. Almost seven years, if you count the last time I was hired, but my relationship with Growing Hope stretches back much farther. I was a teenager working at the Ypsi Food Co-op twenty years ago when I noticed a flyer for Growing Hope’s new “Roots and Shoots” youth program. I vividly remember the excitement I felt about this new organization doing cool things in my hometown. A few years later, when the Downtown farmers market was launched on the same block as my childhood home, the Co-op contributed my time and their SNAP license to help make the Ypsilanti Farmers Market the third in the state to accept SNAP/EBT (aka “food stamps”). That is when I fell in love with farmers markets and the idea that fresh, local food should be accessible to everyone.

Over the next ten years, I got involved in every way possible. I volunteered for the first hoop-house build at the Urban Farm and helped serve food at Chefs in the Garden. I went to potlucks and movie nights. I toured the gardens of Ypsilanti by bicycle and attended classes on starting a community garden. After a few years of managing the independently run Depot Town market, I helped the vendors transition to management by Growing Hope. I was hired by Growing Hope to work as a market assistant the year we managed four different farmers markets. I taught “veggucation” lessons to our teen program. When I returned to school to become a registered dietitian, I thought my working relationship with Growing Hope was over. But just as I finished classes, Growing Hope was hiring for the farmers markets again, and I jumped at the chance to return. Now in my new position as Program Director, I get to weave all of these experiences from Growing Hope’s past into our vision for the future.

Growing Hope has grown and changed tremendously over the past 20 years, and I’ve grown and changed right along with it. I am most grateful for the relationships I’ve built with staff, vendors, and community members and the conversations and experiences that deepen my understanding of why this work is so important. As we approach a new growing season, I look forward to celebrating how far we’ve come and planting seeds that will continue to flourish over the next 20 years and beyond.