Students from Eastern Michigan University’s Honors College gathered in downtown Ypsilanti to help with the development of Growing Hope’s new indoor community building Friday, Sept. 15.
The building, still under construction, is located behind Growing Hope’s own garden supply shop by the name of YpsiPLANTi at 16 S. Washington St, downtown Ypsilanti. The space will mainly be home to an indoor farmers market, hosted by Growing Hope. However, volunteer coordinator Michael Anthony ensures that a market won’t be the only event held there.
“Once the building is complete, it will actually only be a once a week farmers market,” he said, “that leaves six days a week plus lots of hours on the market day for all sorts of cools things to happen in here.”
The space will be rentable for local community members and community organizations hold meetings, parties and concerts. Growing Hope already uses it to hold the Ypsilanti Food Awards, which celebrates and highlights local food entrepreneurs. Concerts have already been held on a couple of occasions in the building despite the construction.
“People don’t care if it’s half finished,” Anthony told the gathered volunteers while introducing the space, “it’s a place where the community can gather and be part of something bigger.”
The organization plans to have construction almost completely finished by the end of the year, with a commercial kitchen taking a bit more time. The kitchen, once complete, will be commercial size and rentable by local food vendors like Meals on Wheels. The entire project is part of Growing Hope’s leading initiative to promote healthy eating and community strength by providing local produce.
Outside, volunteering students pulled out weeds, trimmed trees and dug out dirty in process of beautifying the space. Shanti Bernstein, junior at EMU and a resident of Ypsilanti, noted a disconnection between where she lives and downtown.
“I’ve never seen this part of Ypsilanti much before,” she said, “but walking through you see all the convenience stores and liquor stores – there’s a necessity for somewhere to get fresh produce.”
“I feel like the opportunity they give the school is a good one,” she continued, “it’s an eye opener and helps get the word out.”
Anthony, an EMU alumnus, says it’s not uncommon for students to be unaware of the goings on downtown.
“It’s something we [Growing Hope] talk about a lot – how to engage students with out work, out volunteer programs, our farmers markets and things like that,” he said, “even when I was a student, I would spend a lot of time in the city but my peers would either have a lot of misconceptions or really not know anything about the city at all.”
Carrie Lammers, a sophomore volunteer, thinks the community will be positively impacted by the presence of the new indoor market.
“It fills a hole,” she said, “it’s a really good way to bring the community together.
The little garden shop in front of the developing space used to be an old banking building, having closed in 2009. What was once a room for tellers has been converted into a store for fertilizers, soils, seeds, bed kits and garden supplies as well as houseplants and terrariums. The shop accepts EBT cards for purchase of food related items as well as Eagle Discount cards from EMU students.
MaryAnn Nielsen-Nisley, economic development manager for Growing Hope, says the location of YpsiPLANTi is perfect for the many families who don’t have reliable transportation.
“We offer access to things you normally wouldn’t be able to get without normal transportation,” she said, “it supports out mission to provide healthy foods and gardening for the community.”
Growing Hope’s website offers volunteering opportunities and possible jobs for those who want to participate in their mission. Farmers markets for the organization take place on Tuesdays at the YpsiPLANTi location from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Depot Town also hosts their farmers market at 100 Rice St. in the plaza, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.