With 13 homes and six lots all within a half-mile radius of each other in southeast Grand Rapids, the nonprofit organization Well House
purchases and renovates vacant city homes to provide community living for those otherwise condemned to homelessness, boasting a 90 percent success rate of individuals who never return to living on the streets after leaving Well House.
The organization, which prioritizes tenancy for individuals often turned away from other subsidized housing solutions due to felony convictions, addiction issues, or other social stigmas, goes beyond just housing solutions to offer employment for tenants through its urban farming projects, which Well House hopes to expand through a recently announced crowdfunding campaign supported by the Michigan-based crowdfunding platform Patronicity.
If met by its Sept. 18 deadline, the $25,000 crowdfunding goal will be doubled by matching funds supported by a collaboration between the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and the Michigan State Housing Development Authority. The resulting total $50,000 in funds would afford Well House the ability to expand their urban farming operations through the installation of murals, planting of fruit trees and berry bushes, addition of picnic tables, composting systems, and the planting of native and edible food, for starters.
Tami VandenBerg, the executive director at Well House, says the organization has already hit the 400-pound mark for food grown this year that has been distributed to tenants directly, through $5 food baskets sold weekly at its 3234 Pleasant Ave. farm market each Saturday. Plus, the baskets can be distributed door-to-door when there’s more than enough to go around.
“Sometimes we underestimate the simple things and so I think beautification is just a big piece,” says VandenBerg, whose organization conducted a survey of residents reactions following a previous project that allowed tenants and neighbors to work with local artist to paint murals thanks to funding from the Wege Foundation and Fountain Street Church.
“A lot of what we heard from residents is that beautifying projects shows that someone cares about the neighborhood, and it makes them feel safer even just having the neighborhood more taken care of,” VandenBerg says.
Though one of the three gardens included in the Urban Garden Personality Project’s trio is still in the planning phase, the other two — the Working Garden and Children’s Garden — are fully functional in the community, especially the first of the two, designed for tenants and other neighborhood volunteers to come and take part in the growing, maintenance, and harvesting of produce.
The green space focuses primarily on sustainable production and commerce, functioning not only as an employment opportunity to help tenants regain their independence, but also as another small step toward leveling the playing field in an unequal food system where fresh, organic produce is not often accessible, nor affordable.
“I think our role has really been part educational and part just working with the neighbors who are interested in growing food,” VandenBerg says. “Then there’s also just creating more access…there’s just not a ton of access in the near southeast side of Grand Rapids for organic, really healthy produce.”
The Children’s Garden, also currently up and running, was designed as a space for kids to play, explore, and learn. The plants and produce growing there — things like giant sunflowers, corn, and watermelon — were all chosen based on survey responses from tenants and their families about which vegetables they were most interested in eating or learning about, and VandenBerg says Well House brought in kids to help throughout the initial building process as well.
Though Well House has already purchased the plot of land where the Healing Garden will go — which, for starters will include a new mural, serene healing garden and bench, and decorative fencing — further development of the third Urban Garden Personality Project park is contingent upon the Patronicity crowdfunding campaign’s qualifying matching funds.
“There’s a psychological impact of having people invest in this neighborhood, too — and not just the kind that makes people there feel like they might not be able to stay in their neighborhood, but the kind that makes them feel like they’re part of the investment and helping to drive it,” VandenBerg says. “There is already a very strong community there, and we just want to build on that. But the more we know each other, the more reasonable we tend to be with each other, and the more we tend to give each other the benefit of the doubt and talk through any issues or problems we have.”
Click here to donate to Well House’s Patronicity campaign
or visit www.wellhousegr.org/
for more information.
Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Well House
Well House to open three more houses, expand garden with $475,000 Kellogg grant
Well House new development fund creates an avenue for sustainable growth