Several hundred people helped celebrate the grand opening of Growing Hope’s new Garden and Education Center at 922 W. Michigan Ave. in Ypsilanti on Saturday afternoon.
There they learned about accomplishments more tangible than hope: a new 3,000 square foot plastic hoop house filled with thousands of vegetable seedlings; a freshly renovated house that serves as training center and office space; a quarter-acre of outdoor garden beds and a Rock the Bike Fender Blender that powered a blender directly from the energy of a small boy pedaling a stationary bike.
Growing Hope’s Executive Director Amanda Edmonds began to work with a community garden in 2000 at the Perry Learning Center on Ypsilanti’s south side. Edmonds, who earned B.S. and M.S. degrees from the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment, is modest about what Growing Hope has become.
“The community built this,” she said. “I’m excited to be part of it.”
Ellen Bunting, a member of the Growing Hope Board of Directors, credits a capacity-building grant from Eastern Michigan University with helping the new center get started.
She said the money, “helped improve the infrastructure, and provided upgraded computers, software, network and servers that helped our communications.”
Bunting said many EMU projects have continued to help the group, citing a project by social work students who did an organizational assessment. Bunting said an EMU sorority had asked that afternoon about providing volunteers during the summer.
Growing Hope’s brochure stresses the organization’s advocacy for healthy food, training leaders of community and school gardens and support for small-scale entrepreneurs in food and agriculture. The group has four program areas: growing gardens, farmers’ market, youth and schools and education outreach and advocacy.
According to Edmonds, each year over 200 young people learn cooking, nutrition and gardening “from seed to stomach.” Up to 900 local customers a week attend the Growing Hope-managed Tuesday Downtown Ypsilanti Farmers’ Market.
She said that 29 percent of all market spending is made using low income food assistance. She added that, “over 150 low and no-income families grow their own food at home through our raised bed garden program.”
Growing Hope’s brochure also highlights the role of volunteers, which cultivates community and leadership around healthy food. An average of 500 volunteers, interns and AmeriCorps VISTA’s complete over 19,000 hours of service each year. In addition, Growing Hope collaborates with over 50 other organizations and agencies to increase local food access and promote health.
Former Growing Hope board member Pauline Bigby said she is proud of “the way the organization has continued as an advocate for healthy food in the community.” She emphasized that “giving people the opportunity to volunteer makes us part of the neighborhood.” She also mentioned the “great support we’ve had from City Hall, especially from Council and Mayor Schreiber.”
The hoop house formed the backdrop for the formal ceremony. Mayor Paul Schreiber gave a short speech of congratulations, as did City Council Member Ricky Jefferson and State Representative David E. Rutledge.
Schreiber applauded “the forward thinking idea that [Edmonds] had, to grow our own food in the city. Ypsilanti is changing from being an industrial city, and [Edmonds] is helping with that change by Growing Hope.” U.S. Representative John Dingell was unable to attend but sent a staff member to read his congratulations to Edmonds for “making a positive difference in Ypsilanti.”
The grand opening ceremony concluded after a group chorus of “Oh Happy Day,” when Edmonds, assisted by five other key members, cut the ribbon, which was a long, thick, healthy vine. The crowd clapped, cheered and then enjoyed some freshly grown food.