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Growing Hope in Ypsilanti: Cynthia Vanrenterghem

Cynthia Vanrenterghem demonstrates the role that nonprofit organizations can play in supporting food sustainability.
<v ->Welcome back to the teach out on food sustainability.</v> I’m here with Cynthia van Renterhim. Who’s the executive director of growing hope, which is a 501 C3 nonprofit organization that works in equitable and sustainable food access. Thank you so much for joining us today. <v ->My pleasure, thanks for having me.</v> <v ->Perfect, Well, let’s just jump right in.</v> Can you tell me a little bit more about where we are and kind of what growing hope is as an organization? <v ->Yes, so we are standing in one of our two hoop houses.</v> We are growing food nearly year round in this space.
A hoophouse you might know is different than a greenhouse it’s completely powered by the sun, which even though it’s mid-March, it’s quite warm in here and it has been for the last month, every time the sun comes out. So we have lots growing already. We have a lot being planted. In fact, on the Growing Hope Farm, we’ll have almost 300 different plantings throughout the year, a lot in this house and then out in the field and we have another hoop house that’s our propagation house and we use it as an outdoor classroom and so, but I love being in here, it’s warm and moist and things are growing and it smells good, so. <v ->It’s beautiful.
It’s raining on us a little bit.</v> <v ->It is some kind of station, yeah.</v> <v ->So can you tell us a little bit more about growing hope</v> <v ->Sure</v> and what your, your mission is here in Ypsilanti? <v ->Yeah, well this discussion is timely</v> because we have recently kind of updated and refreshed our mission statement as a recognition that our scope has really broadened. And so we talk about fostering a more equitable and sustainable local food system and where we really working to empower all people to grow, buy, sell, prepare, and eat nourishing food. And across that system, growing hope is working on many different levels and really with participants along that whole spectrum of the system.
And we just felt that the, our mission statement needed to reflect that more. So this is great time to talk about it. Yeah. <v ->Wonderful, so we’re here in Ypsilanti, Michigan,</v> and a lot of your mission and a lot of your focus is on local food systems. Can you tell us a little bit more about how you here at Growing Hope, define what is local? <v ->Sure, that’s a good question</v> because there is no set definition and we find that when we talk local, it really depends upon where we are in that system.
So if you think moving along the spectrum, we always start with the growers and we work with a lot of local residents on their own home growing, we have a wonderful program called Our Vegetable Garden program, where residents who are interested in meet are qualify, come for training, and then we go to their home and help them build raised beds, provide compost seeds, seedlings, go back for a few consultations, help them deal with pest control, all of those issues and really help them learn to grow their own food. And of course we work with local farmers, but that is a much wider local.
We tend to say maybe a hundred miles from here, I mean driving distance, but those are the small and medium size farmers who are frequenting our farmer’s markets and part of our food hub, part of our aggregation efforts and really local, but not local, like actually the people eating. And then when we talk about our makers in the, or our restaurants, that again is, it tends to be the Ypsilanti area. Although we do work in Ann Arbor as well. But when we think about on a policy level, then we start to broaden into Washington county. For example, we’re very active in the Washington county food policy council, and we work on the regional level and state level.
When you talk about policy and efforts to strengthen the local food system, efforts to make it more equitable for both people who are trying to access nutritious food and people who are working within that food system. So local really changes depending on where we are in that spectrum. So it’s a, I always think it’s interesting, it’s just important that people know that, that we are working all the way from an individual resident to across Michigan. <v ->Sure, so you just named a lot</v> of different stakeholders and partners, and obviously, you know, a lot of human power went into creating what we’re standing in today and also kind of building out those, those short and obviously long-term relationships.
So how do you as an organization kind of approach partnerships? <v ->Right, you know we love partnerships</v> and we work with so many organizations on different levels. So for example, our home vegetable garden program, we work with Habitat For Humanity because it’s a perfect marriage of, we bring the gardening expertise and they have new home owners who might be interested in building out a garden beds. And so we worked together to find those people and really help them settle in their homes and really make it their home. we work, I mentioned the food policy council. That’s a lot of partnerships all working at different aspects of the food economy, but with the same goal in mind.
And it’s also important that we make sure that we’re not duplicating efforts among the partners that recognizing some people can do things better or are already doing them, or, you know, that management of resources, we’re all working with scarce resources. So just making sure we have overlap when it makes sense and that we have clear lines of, of kind of job descriptions when it doesn’t mean we don’t want to both be showing up and doing the same thing. So we work really multiple non-profits and some of it it’s just, we’re all, for example, we work closely with Food Gatherers and if see Meals on Wheels, I like to call them, they’re sort of the frontline of working on food insecurity.
And then we’re working on that next level of really helping people understand where their food comes from, you know, what choices they have. So, but we’re addressing the same overall issue of food security and food access. So it’s really important that we work together. <v ->It sounds like you’re kind of one piece of a puzzle</v> in a really complex a system here in Southeast Michigan. <v ->Yes, for sure, in fact, if I could back up a little bit,</v> something I didn’t do, I like to talk about growing hope in terms of we have four impact areas we like to call them.
So, and we have two locations. We’re standing in our hoop houses. I said, of our urban farm. And then later we’ll see our marketplace and really two main impact areas emanate out of here, what we call our farm and garden. So that’s our home vegetable garden, that’s adult trainings, demonstrations, we have a youth garden, we have our field trips here, tremendous number of volunteers coming through. And then we also have our youth and schools program, which really emanates out of here.
So that’s that opportunity to get to that younger generation before they’ve really formed their eating habits and make sure that they really understand and have exposure to hands in the dirt, pulling carrots up, picking tomatoes, growing, weeding, and then also tasting good food, experiencing different foods and helping them just broaden their food palette. And we, here we have, it’s not started up yet, but I really, this is one of my favorite programs. We have a teen leadership program here and where we have 10 teens, they’re here with us for three months. It’s a paid employment program and they grow, harvest, prepare their food, take farm shares home every week.
But also it’s really, we call caught a leadership program because we really want them to be leaders in the food system. So they’re trained to teach classes and, you know, do all sorts of work with our community centers, there’s summer camps, they’ll be doing tastings at our farmer’s markets, they’ll be doing tasting this fourth. Our mobile farm stands, so it’s a really awesome program.
Then our two other focus areas are or two other impact areas are of course our farmer’s markets, really important. We have two in Ypsilanti, we have a year round farmer’s market. We’ll see that location later on Tuesdays, and then our seasonal farmer’s market in Depot town on Saturdays, and find me our newest impact area with, which I just love because my background is born entrepreneurial and it’s, it’s our food entrepreneurship program. We have our new licensed incubator kitchen where people can rent it by the hour. And we also provide much needed dry storage, cold storage, but more importantly, even than the facility itself, a lot of business aggregation services, we’re a connector in the community, again, that partnership.
So spark east, the WCC entrepreneurship center, the health department, and really help them move through that process to how to become licensed insurance they need, you know, how to set up an LLC. So food entrepreneurship is very much still part of local food system, but not necessarily what you would think of with Growing Hope, but it’s a really new, great area and tremendous need for this space. And for this help, especially for women, especially for people of color, we have a great new partnership with the Jewish family services who are working with refugees and a microloan program. And many of them are food entrepreneurs. So very exciting part of growing up as well.
<v ->It’s an amazing scope of impact.</v> <v ->Yeah</v> If think, thinking in the context of this teach-out, it’s really great to hear your focus on youth as we’re focusing on, you know, how do we mitigate and adapt to climate change, especially looking at our individual kind of food behaviors. So the last question I have for you is, is along those lines. So thinking about, you know, our learners joining from all over the world, into this teach-out, what is kind of one action that they could take to kind of get involved and to understand a little bit more about their local food systems?
<v ->You know, it’s interesting because when you approached me,</v> I thought, I hadn’t thought about it in this way, but you’re so right in terms of what we’re doing and what we’re doing with youth and their ability to make a difference with climate change.
And if I were to think about what I would say to people, I mean the local food system is you, it’s me, and it’s right there for you to find. And with our youth, what matters so much is to have them think about where their food comes from, the choices that they have, what it really means to eat a local tomato, local greens that, that, Hey, it’s March, and you can buy local food from Michigan, it’s there for you.
<v ->It’s right here behind us.</v> <v ->Yes, yes it is.</v> So when it comes to what people can do in their own local food system, go find your farmers, find your markets, find, grow your own food, find your community gardens, your school gardens. I will tell you, they are all there and they need your support and you will benefit from them. It’s such a wonderful community. We have not even talked about our farmers, the markets, I mean, the environmental impact
of our our farm system, you know, collectivizing where we have small and medium sized farmers, there tend to use much higher percentage using organic farming methods, crop rotation, crop diversity is much stronger, you know, air all the heirloom vegetables that we see in our market.
And, and just, you know, you get a chance to talk to the person who’s growing your food, and that really makes a difference as well. <v ->Wonderful, so it sounds like seeking out your local food</v> and getting your hands dirty as well. <v ->Absolutely.</v> <v ->All right, well, thank you so much Cynthia</v> for having this conversation today and thank you for joining us in the segment of the food sustainability teach-out. We look forward to continuing the conversation with you in the discussion forums.

Local food systems are extremely complex and community-based work is a long-term commitment, one that requires strong relationships with a broad range of people. Growing Hope, an Ypsilanti-based, 501c3 nonprofit organization is leading the way to foster an equitable and sustainable local food system where all people are empowered to grow, buy, sell, prepare, and eat nourishing food. In this segment Cynthia and Benjamin talk about the impact that community-based organizations can have on sustainable local food systems.

Cynthia Vanrenterghem is the Executive Director of Growing Hope. Cynthia’s bio here.

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