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Posts Tagged ‘Mia & Grace’

“Grand Rapids doesn’t have anything like this; Holland doesn’t have anything like this, so for little old Muskegon to pop up and kinda be the pioneers in a way is kind of a cool thing.”

I traipse across the Urban Ag site, as the smart people are calling it these days, to where Terry waits for me with soil-black hands.  “This is going to be a working interview.”  I kneel down and help mound dirt around some new transplants.  This is going to be a cool interview.

Like everyone involved in this project, she gets excited as she talks.

Teri and her daughter Aurora

Teri and her daughter Aurora

Teri grew up in Muskegon and lived in the area ever since.  She went to Michigan State in 2007 to learn how to do this.  It was the very first year of the program; only eleven people participated.  She tells me she likes to work outdoors, likes physical labor.  This job combines all the things she loves.

“I get paid to play in the dirt all day.”

The farm is located behind Goodwill, who generously allows the farm to use their land and water.  It employs a handful of high school-aged workers – Teri’s crew – for the summer, and I want to come back and meet them.  Planting began on June 8th.

“My crew was saying, ‘Can you believe that a few weeks ago, this was just a field?’ It recreates that relationship with ‘where does our food come from?’  Well, I know my farmer; I know who grew it.  It’s a different way of doing food,” Teri says.

Plant

We’re interrupted by a neighbor inquiring about tomatoes.  The relationship with the community goes back before this site was ever around.  It’s been a tradition since the community gardens were planted around the neighborhood, from which this micro enterprise was born.  “It started out with me and Mike Jackson,” Sarah Rinsema-Sybenga once told me, “on the lot which is right across from Bethany, which is now the Gentle Garden, with a rototiller, one day, tears streaming down my face, cause I’m like, ‘Where are the neighbors?  This is not how it’s supposed to be.’  And Mike getting behind this beast of a rototiller and tilling up the soil.  Neighbors eventually got onboard with the vision, too.  So it moved from one community garden to six or seven community gardens or pocket parks.”

Terry picks a handful of basil for me to take home, and tells me a recipe to use it in, which I immediately forget, having worked third shift the night before.  That’s why I have the digital recorder.

Then I pop by the Community EnCompass offices to get a little more background information from Carlos.  Sarah pops her head out of her office.  “Is that basil I smell?  You know what you should do with it?”  She gives another recipe which dissolves in the water of my sleep-deprived mind.

A local healthy good advocate named Chris Bedford came to Community EnCompass and gave them the idea of expanding the community gardening program into a micro enterprise, in part to serve as an economic engine in the neighborhood.  An entrepreneur with the Community Foundation liked the idea and provided funds for the next two and a half years, to get it off the ground.

G & L has already bought all the tomatoes the farm can grow this year, and talks are underway with Mia & Grace and the Baker Culinary Arts Institute.

I make it home to my apartment, handful of basil held before me, amputated bits of plants sticking through my fingers.  Shadow* gasps in horror and faints at the sight.

McLaughlin Urban Ag Logo

*Shadow is the name of a plant, and is my memorial to my residents who have died.  Also, to finish the basil story, I eventually put it with some ground turkey, onion, olive oil, rice, and then ate it.

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            We grow up in our imperfect worlds, and they make us who we are.  We learn our limits, and we know that we can’t fix the world, but we try.  We try to fix the things that hurts us.

            I sat in a little bistro on 3rd street called Mia & Grace, talking with Carlos Avrard, fellow Mosaic Way-er and coordinator of the Healthy Neighborhood Project in McLaughlin. 

“They have muffalettas here,” he said as he explained the place.

I set out my digital recorder and give him a simple directive: get me to now.

            He told me fondly about New Orleans – the food, the music, the weather, the drive-thru alcohol stands – the diversity he encountered on every side.

“We moved a lot, though, around,” he said.  He went to eight different schools in his thirteen years, never setting down any roots.  Then he tells me in a quiet sort of way that he’s envious of people who have long-term friendships, the kind that stretch back into childhood.

Carlos

     He met his wife, Sarah, in college.  They hung out in a Hardee’s one of the first nights he was there.  “She knew right away,” he said.  After graduation, they moved to Michigan.  The church they attended was located in McLaughlin at the time.  Starting Mosaic Way has seen them come full circle.

            “The diversity, that’s a good, healthy thing, that there’s not people who look like you and think like you.  There’s a vibrancy in that,” he said of the mosaic McLaughlin neighborhood.

            We arrived at now, so now what?  These days Carlos is remodeling his house and continuing his work with the neighborhood.

“One cool thing about our home remodel project – where we’re taking this home built over a hundred years ago and it’s sturdy and it has all this character to it, but has all this work that’s required – I’m kinda paralleling this home remodel project to this neighborhood.  Where as we’re spending ourselves and putting in effort and money into restoring this home in a way, of pouring passion and energy – and granted, it’s one little piece of this neighborhood, but paralleling that to this community, putting in effort, putting in time, pouring ourselves and our passions toward seeing this community be restored in a way. And I think those two parallels of the struggles that we deal with on the house, of knowing it’s not a quick fix and it’s not gonna be easy and we’re gonna have to be patient; we’re gonna have frustrations and roadblocks.  The same is true for this neighborhood, that it’s not going to be a quick fix; we’re gonna have to deal with the frustration and the roadblocks and all those things.  As you kinda dig into this stuff you find that you bust open a wall, and you find out what the plumbing and electrical is like below it.  Whereas, you knock on a door, you find a neighbor that has issues or something…  So that’s been an interesting thing that’s been echoing in my head a lot that this house remodel project in a nutshell is kind of symbolic in a way of this neighborhood.  You know we can’t do this house remodeling on our own; we can’t have this neighborhood redo itself on its own.  It requires other people.  Community and folks for support and all those things.”

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