As my research is wrapping up, I’d like to share the highlights of what my experience has been working with Growing Hope has been. The focus for the summer has been working with the community organization Growing Hope to develop a stronger community partnership with the course Engineers Making a Difference, and to create a new design project for students who will be taking the course this fall(2011). Building a stronger community partnership with any organization means one needs to be visible and invested in the organization’s outreach. In a course-community organization type partnership, this also means that work needs to be done towards finding where each partner can both help and benefit from the relationship. In my role, one of my main duties was to help out in any way possible, and work to find ways to enable the engineering course, Engineers Making a Difference, to apply the engineering principles they would be taught in a way that would help Growing Hope. I was able to participate in working both at the Growing Hope office in downtown Ypsilanti, and also at the farm on West Michigan Ave. The projects for the engineering course needed to help Growing Hope on the farm, and be examples to visiting community members on what innovative things can be built out of recycled materials for growing their own food. Being able to work in the hoop house and on the garden beds allowed be to see what resources are necessary (and which ones would be extremely helpful) in caring for a food garden.
I also was able to participate in many raised-bed builds, as part of a installation program that encourages community members to grow their own food by bringing the raised beds to their house and installing the beds for them. The participants also receive 10 seedlings and 10 seed packets to start their own garden. For many people who participate in this program, the resources donated to them are materials they themselves are not able to purchase, or put together. I got to hear a lot of positive feedback about the program being there, talking with community members. I also got a community perspective on what ideas they used starting out, using their own resources to create gardens before they started participating in the Growing Hope program. Many people had stories about what their parents did to grow food many years ago, and how that had an affect on their decision to grow food today.
Continue reading for more on my summer experience, Week Nine-Ten under Weekly Reflections
This week I worked on instruction manuals for the design projects created last fall in the Engineers Making a Difference course. Each team had written out instructions and diagrams for their projects, and included in their reports so notes about trouble-shooting during the assembly of the prototype they built. The notes were especially helpful, because they gave a look into the longevity of the product they had created. A project that is well thought out lasts longer, at therefore helps the community organization by eliminating excessive upkeep of the product. For a service learning project, keep in mind this 4 things:
To continue reading, go to Weekly Reflection, Week 8.
Get to know Growing Hope better! Enjoy the video.
This week at Growing Hope I was able to learn a lot more about what goes into maintaining a garden bed outdoors versus one inside a hoop house. I wouldn’t want to give you my biased opinion about what I think works best…(hint, start with the letter h)…so here’s some information from what I have been able to gather on the subject.
Why are so many gardeners interested in having a hoop house in their backyard? A hoop house provides warmth, shelter from storms and heavy rains, and serves as a structure that can allow a gardener the ability to start crops earlier in the season. It helps to allow produce to grow that would not normally ripen during the cooler months. That’s why these plastic covered structures are called “season extenders”.
The plastic covering is actually a type of plastic called polyethylene film, something you’d find in water bottles, plastic bags, and other packaging supplies. Fun fact from Wikipedia on Polyethylene film: Polyethylene can also be made from other feedstocks, including wheat grain and sugar beet.
A hoop house can extend the season of plants for 3-4 months, and for more time, another layer of plastic can be added with a small fan to keep the top layer elevated. It seems like a lot of investment for a garden, but farmers are known to use hoop house to grow their more expensive crops, and thus justify the cost of the produce (Source: The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation). The “green-house quality” plastic is treated to avoid accelerated degradation with the continuous exposure to ultra-violet light, and to decrease the amount of heat loss that the hoop house potentially experiences during days and nights of fluctuating temperatures. Condensation usually develops on the underside of plastic when exposed to moisture and heat, so the plastic also is treated to avoid condensation, thus decreasing the possibly of plants developing diseases from the moisture.
A hoop house, depending on it’s size, can take from a couple days to a couple months to be fully constructed. I asked the program manager at Growing Hope about the time it took to build their 30 x 96 feet hoop house that allows them year-around production. Although there isn’t a concise way to quantify the total time that it took to prep the ground, build the skeleton structure, cover and secure the plastic covering, and put in the raised beds, you could say that it took a long time. “And a lot of volunteers!”
Continue Reading by clicking on Week 7 under Weekly reflections.
This week I was doing a little research in food education, and how the leaders in food education and healthy food advocacy world had to say about the path that America was on in terms of the health epidemic the country is facing today. This was sparked interviews in the past week of Growing Hope’s project manager and several impromptu interviews of community members and staff of Growing Hope. Every single person emphasized the importance of getting more community members involved with health programs and getting educated about how to improve their family’s health through better food choices, preferably in purchasing produce a little more closed to home. TED talks gave the stage to Jamie Oliver last December to give the world his ideas about the future of food, and he used his platform well, in reinforcing the point about goals needing to be set in America (and all over the world, of course) about food education. A fellow wordpress blogger re-posted Oliver’s talk and applied his ideas to service learning. You can watch the video above and then Check out the link!
This week at Growing Hope we completed the last two raised bed builds in the community. Growing Hope is given a grant for 40 families to participate in Growing Hope’s Growing Garden’s program for free, providing each family with three raised beds, free installation and compost material to fill each bed. The participants also receive ten seedlings and ten seed packets to start growing produce right away. The idea of the program came about when the organization noticed that some people in the neighborhood who were interested in growing their own food were hindered by their financial resources. Providing these resources allowed many more people to participate in growing their own food and taking better care of themselves and their family’s health. In a community where many people are disadvantaged, Growing Hope realized that teaching and providing resources go hand in hand. Ypsilanti has seen many more people get involved in the urban food movement because of what Growing Hope has been able to do in outreach. Interestingly, Growing Hope was created out of a service-learning type graduate research project for Perry Learning Garden , a school garden that facilitates learning about food for students who attend the Perry Child Development Center. The Perry Learning Garden was a successful project in that educated students how to grow and prepare healthy foods, and also allowed them to apply their new skills right where they studied. Now at Growing Hope, education remains the forefront of the outreach in Ypsilanti, because only knowledgeable community members will be successful with their personal gardens and feel encouraged to pass along the information they’ve been given to their neighbors. It’s a balance between helping the Ypsilanti community and listening closely to community members about what is needed; the same balance is held in service learning projects among college students who don’t have large resources but can use skills learned in class to help organizations, those that have a presence in the community and can facilitate changes. Once students learn what is needed in the community, they can then apply the right skills to come up with an appropriate solution.
It is often hard for small organizations to grow because of all the work they have to do just to function as a non-profit every single day. Growing Hope faces challenges in all directions, but with minimal resources and a small staff, the organization tries the best it can to continue to reach out to the local community. High on a small organization’s wish list is money, and more resources, but especially for Growing Hope, the highest wish is increased community participation. Many community members have found Growing Hope’s outreach programs beneficial to Ypsilanti, but much of the community has not taken the time to become invested in the programs offered by Growing Hope as volunteers or workers. This is not unique to the area: the food movement in general has been largely pioneered by local farmers but publicized by affluent community members and celebrities, people the traditionally oppressed at large cannot identify with economically or culturally. The misconception that fresh produce can only be accessed by those with more wealth and influence has been prevalent in areas where low-income households purchase unhealthy foods and non-perishable foods as a mainstay to keep within their food budget. Changing the perception of access to fresh produce is a crucial goal in the outreach Growing Hope has with the Ypsilanti community. If more members of the community see growing and buying fresh food as a viable option for their families, they will be more inclined to help Growing Hope’s outreach by encouraging their neighbors to participate.