A look back at Building Resilient Communities’ pilot year, 2021-2022.
A farm distributes thousands more pounds of produce with new walk-in coolers. A childcare center transforms its backyard with a school garden. A food pantry sees record-high client numbers when offering unlimited produce from local farms. A community garden run by volunteers gets the tools needed to grow and engage more neighborhood families.
All this, and much, much more, is one year of Building Resilient Communities at work.
Groundwork launched Building Resilient Communities (BRC) in 2021 as a forward-thinking solution to the dire economic situations that farmers, families, and communities have experienced as a result of COVID-19 and the existing flaws in our food system. Catapulting from the success of previous initiatives, like the Local Food Relief Fund, BRC aims to improve access to fresh, nourishing food and revitalize our local food economies. We achieve these goals through strategic investments in infrastructure and education. I like to pronounce BRC as “brick” because each of these investments—garden tools, a refrigerator, Crockpots, wood for a raised garden bed—though small, when stacked together with the others builds something strong and grand.
Our team has worked hard to provide $2,000 stipends, staff consultation, and other resources to 26 project sites across our 10-county Northwest Lower Michigan region, ranging from farms and community gardens to food pantries, schools, and mental health centers, each of which has unique needs and challenges.
These five project “snapshots” give you a feel for what we’ve accomplished.
Z&N Farm (Manistee County)
Zac and Nicole and their new farmstand building at ZnN Farm.
The BRC program has transformed Z&N Farm’s ability to provide fresh produce to customers by allowing owners Zac and Nicole to invest in a new fully enclosed farmstand building. With the weatherproof store, Z&N’s customers can access beautiful produce on the farm at least 10 months of the year—a huge plus for food pantry users, who can purchase nutrient-dense produce using “Farm Bucks” here. The new building is even used to teach customers how to cook different types of produce, thanks to recipes posted in a community bulletin board attached to the exterior (along with updates on local events, food assistance program info, and other resources).
“The new farmstand makes everything more convenient for the customers and much easier on us,” says Zac Meseke, who operates the farm with his wife, Nicole. “Running a small farm business is an incredibly difficult task, and anything that makes it easier keeps us motivated to keep doing this work.”
Family Care Network of Manton Food Pantry (Wexford County)
Recipe cards complement the ingredients of the farm’s 2021 holiday boxes, donated to local veterans.
The Manton Food Pantry provides access to fresh food for nearly 600 families each year. With the BRC grant, the pantry increased freezer space for meat donations from local farmers—which they were forced to refuse in the past—and upgraded shelving units to better display the fresh produce offered. Another key piece of the project was investing in a printer and computer to provide pantry clients with nutrition information, recipes, and tips on how to store the produce they take home.
Third Day Farm (Missaukee County)
Bob Gothard owns Third Day Farm with his wife, Anne. As a disabled vet, Bob is well connected to local Veterans Affairs clinics and senior service centers, and he has embedded serving these folks into the farm’s mission.
“Each year, we provide a two-weeks’ supply of meats, vegetables, and non-GMO staples in boxes for a local VA in between Thanksgiving and Christmas. We found this is a very vulnerable time for seniors and disabled veterans, who must choose between medications, insurances, utilities, and food. We have found that many are too proud to ask for help and so are left behind. We grow what we can so we can share what we have.”
With the BRC project stipend, Third Day Farm converted its basement-level garage into large walk-in coolers, allowing the farm to store more than 10,000 pounds of vegetables safely. Along with this increased storage capacity, the project also produced specially tailored recipe cards to match the contents of holiday food boxes, which the farm donated to 60 local veterans and their families last winter.
Children’s Learning Center (Emmet County)
Operated by the Women’s Resource Center of Northern Michigan, this early childhood education center provides free and low-cost childcare programming in Petoskey. The Children’s Learning Center used the funds to upgrade its kitchen refrigerator, making it possible to store more fresh food for students. The center also gained nutrition education resources, including Harvest of the Month recipes, classroom videos, and parent flyers to connect families to Michigan-grown produce.
Food Rescue (Grand Traverse County)
At the Food Rescue warehouse in Traverse City, volunteers repack 2,000 pounds of bulk frozen potatoes and asparagus into smaller, usable portions that families can take home (photo courtesy of Food Rescue).
Operated by Goodwill of Northern Michigan since 2008, Food Rescue collects soon-to-expire, fresh food and distributes it to the emergency food providers of the Northwest Food Coalition and others in need. The BRC project stipend allowed Food Rescue to upgrade its frozen produce repackaging process with new printing equipment, bag sealers, and new product labels that keep the end user in mind. Beyond making Food Rescue’s operations more effective, the grant enabled dozens of emergency food providers to immediately reap the benefits of increased food safety and client agency in making healthy choices (see an example of the new packaging in action below).
Taylor Moore, Food Rescue’s manager, says that community collaboration is the core of food access work. “From grocery store associates, farmers, educators, clergy, cooks, and volunteers, it takes thousands of people working together to make sure thousands more do not go hungry.”
Want to read more? Here’s a summary of all projects funded for the 2021-2022 pilot year.
This is just a taste of what the BRC program can help accomplish. More than a year after launch, we’ve nurtured BRC from a budding pilot to a blooming model of community grantmaking, with huge impacts and even greater ripple-effect potential. Step by step, projects like these are helping to improve production, procurement, and distribution streams of fresh, nourishing food in our communities.
It takes foundational, brick-and-mortar support—farmstands, coolers, kitchen equipment, printers, produce racks—to create the intangible changes we want to see: stronger economies, healthier families, and more resilient communities.