With the growing concerns of large scale farming and widespread contamination of food sources, the development of smaller, urban, locally grown and sustainable organic gardens and farms have been cropping up all over the Ypsilanti area for a number of years.
One such family committed to locally grown and sustainable farming is the Walnut Grove Urban Farm located just south of Eastern Michigan University’s campus in the Normal Park area of Ypsilanti.
Walnut Farms consists of Brett and Briannon English and their future helpers, three-and-a-half-year-old daughter Lilliana, and another on the way in June.
Having just moved here in March 2011, it was important for them, “to live as sustainably as possible,” by keeping what food they put in their bodies as locally sourced as possible. “What better way to satisfy both of these things than to grow our own food,” Brett English said.
In addition to the health and safety concerns that the English family has, their enthusiasm to inspire others is another important reason for their urban gardening.
“Farming our small property is a perfect way to inspire others to do the same. We hope that our model of family farming is rediscovered across America as a safer alternative food source,” he said.
Having taken a class at Washtenaw Community College, Briannon English learned a variety of growing techniques that they are experimenting with for the first time on the farm this year.
“I took an organic gardening certification program, which has inspired me to do more and try to get the best yields because we want to be able feed ourselves, as well as provide to the community,” she said.
According to Briannon English, this year they have about 60 different varieties of vegetables, herbs and micro-greens (their niche) just within 1,500 square feet of land. In the future, they hope to expand to five acres and include livestock other than chickens.
The Ypsilanti Grower’s Co-operative, a local organization founded in September 2011 and launched this year, was made possible by a grant from the Michigan Municipal League through Growing Hope, that currently consists of nine Ypsilanti growers. Anyone can join the co-operative for a nominal membership fee of $55.
During lunch at Beezy’s in downtown Ypsilanti with the founders of the Ypsilanti Grower’s Co-op, Eva Nyerges, Christine Kaczkowski and Stefanie Stuaffer, Stauffer said one of the main goals for the co-op is to, “Be able to provide an affordable place where growers can sell their extra yield. Plus, it’s a great place for both beginning or experienced gardeners, so participation can be at any level. It’s all about getting together and sharing.”
According to Nyerges, the farm manager and Americorps VISTA volunteer at Growing Hope, “So far we’ve been selling out of all our produce at the Downtown Ypsilanti Farmers’ Market. By combining our resources through the Ypsi Grower’s Co-op, it makes it easier for individuals to sell.”
Stauffer, a sociology Ph.D. student from the University of California at Santa Barbara as well as a local grower and owner of Nightshade Army Industries, said “It’s great to have local support especially with the lack of resources in Yspi. I think part of that has pushed people here to be more innovative and creative.”
In addition to just selling produce through the Ypsi Grower’s Co-op, some of the local community gardens have been using students like co-op Accounting Manager Christine Kaczkowski’s children to help in the gardens as an educational tool.
“My garden at home and the garden we built at the kids’ daycare, they are actually doing some of the gardening and they are learning a lot from it, so it’s a really great opportunity to get them involved,” said Kaczkowski.