The Kent CD provided funds to Urban Roots, a community farm, market and education center located in southeast Grand Rapids, which focused on building farm infrastructure, developing future programs, improving collaborative partnerships, developing their staff and board, and preparing for a successful growing season.
Urban Roots developed a two-day-a-week market – a new program in response to constant requests from neighbors who wanted to purchase food from the farm nearly every day. To address food insecurity in the Madison neighborhood, Urban Roots worked to create a daily market to grow and sell 100% of the produce grown within approximately 0.75 miles of the farm.
The farm hosted “Last Fridays” volunteer days, which offered opportunities for community ownership of the farm, shared volunteer/educational experiences and a farm-to-table meal together. A drop-in volunteer day held each quarter brought out a variety of community members, volunteers and staff participants together to improve the farm.
Urban Roots developed numerous educational partnerships, seven internship opportunities, and grew multiple relationships with area institutes of higher education. In partnership with a local university, a group of environmental studies capstone students investigated ways to improve the social/ ecological outcomes of the community farm and education center. These investigations helped overhaul the composting logistics, increased the farm’s food distribution apparatus, outfitted the mobile classroom, and increased capacity for engaging neighbors.
On the farm, Urban Roots planted over 10,000 square feet of bio-intensively managed beds, a healthy soil ecosystem that uses less water and promotes long-term soil fertility. In addition, the program started a bee colony to promote bee health and better pollination, saved seeds for the city of Grand Rapids, installed a simple greywater system in the wash/pack area, and launched the public learning garden and a self-harvest “sidewalk snack” learning garden.
Urban Roots Community Farm, Market and Education Center ended the grant with educational accomplishments: 16 collaborative and educational partnerships were launched with entities throughout the city through the mobile classroom; a 10-part free workshop series was hosted; new day camps were run with the local public museum; a new collaborative partnership with faith communities – teaching a series on Grow/Eat/Learn with World Renew – was started; four refugee and immigrant teens were taught in partnership with a local non-profit teaching life-skills, employment training and work experience; and three open houses held during 2017, which engaged Madison neighbors and the greater Grand Rapids community.
Urban Roots continues to apply for grants, seek out new partners, and gather feedback from its community. It has created feedback loops for neighbors and other supporters to have their voice heard when it comes to future offerings. The farm is expanding their market presence and completed a USDA grant that would potentially allow the farm to source from other area growers increasing the amount and diversity of food access for their neighbors.
They are looking forward to continuing the bike-powered community compost collection, expanding the mobile classroom experience, and adding nutritional programming and further developing the hands-on educational gardens. Urban Roots will continue to offer multiple “Group-service Learning” opportunities where local organizations, nonprofits and schools can visit the farm for a tour, a work-service project, and a meal together, cooked with ingredients from the farm. Urban Roots has a diversity of partnerships from loyal volunteers to large organizational support that will fuel it into the future.