Last Saturday, my family decided to finally find Ryke’s bakery after our trip to the Muskegon Farmer’s Market. Driving down Laketon Avenue, we saw a bustling neighborhood with cars turning left and right, family homes, businesses, a hospital. Then, wait! Is that a greenhouse? It sure is! There, seemingly in the hospital parking lot, sits a small urban farm, right smack dab in the middle of all of this urban hustle and bustle. That urban farm is McLaughlin Grows Urban Farm, situated in the McLaughlin neighborhood of Muskegon.
After driving past this curious little farm, I couldn’t wait to meet farm manager Laurie Wieschowski and see what was growing at “McGrows”. I wasn’t sure what to expect given I was visiting a farm in March. But, oh my, is that farm already well on it’s way to a glorious growing season. Laurie first showed me their hoop house, where garlic and collard greens happily thrived and others rows were being prepped for planting. There I met Gage, the assistant farm manager, and Brietta, a member of YEP, a local youth leadership program who were both setting up irrigation lines.
Next I toured the green house where trays of microgreens, onions and leeks were soaking in the warmth of the green house. There Laurie told me how the farm works for the community that surrounds them, providing a “food forest” in front where anyone can come pick and enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables, and a children’s garden within the farm’s fences, with colorful raised beds that will soon be filled with fruit and vegetable plants kids can sample from. Laurie told me about how McGrows welcomes all, from preschool and school age children learning about growing a garden, to youth in the Youth Empowerment Project, learning the ins and outs of running an urban farm. Laurie also told stories of people who volunteer at the farm and keep coming back because they love it so much.
What captivated me the most about McLaughlin Grows Urban Farm was not just the plants growing in the hoop house and green house (although they were stunning), but more importantly, the stories. Brietta moved me with her story about starting at McGrows because she saw a flyer at school saying if she finished the program mentioned in the flyer, she would receive money. Very enticing, indeed. But she said she stayed because she loved seeing not just the plants growing around her but the relationships as well. How youth like her would start at the farm, unsure of getting their hands dirty. As the plants grew, so did their relationships with each other, their friendships, their confidence, their leadership skills, their connection to the plants they watched sprout up and produce healthy fruits and vegetables for the community around them.
Her story brought a tear to my eye because I could feel how important and powerful this farm was to many people in the community. Even though not much was in bloom at McLaughlin Grows Urban Farm during my visit, what’s always growing there year round is an honest, sincere and inspiring sense of a community coming together, getting their hands dirty and growing more than just food.
Next time you are at the Muskegon Farmer’s Market, stop at the McLaughlin Grows Urban Farm table and buy their greens and produce and herbs and whatever they have. (I’ve had their microgreens. Delicious!). When you invest in their food, you are investing in a community, in opportunities for our youth and the community to engage in growing high quality sustainable food.
And why stop at buying a bag of their delectable microgreens? Sign up for the CSA program and receive a weekly share of this urban farms harvest. Check out their website to see the variety of CSA programs McGrows offers.
Thank you, McLaughlin Grows Urban Farms for letting me visit! I cannot wait to come back and share your inspiring farm with my family.