New City Neighbors grows programming despite layers of crisis

Founded in 2007 at Fourth Reformed Church on Grand Rapids’ northeast side, New City Neighbors employs and mentors high school-aged Creston neighborhood youth at its farm and café—its Summer Garden Club welcomes middle schoolers. The successful Christian ministry makes a big difference not only for Creston’s youth, but also for Creston neighbors experiencing food insecurity.

In July 2020, two months after New City Neighbors hired executive director Ricardo Tavarez, the church severed ties with the organization because of disagreements on theological issues, including New City Neighbors’ more inclusive stance toward the LGBTQ community.

“I did not expect to cut my teeth as an executive director in this way,” Tavarez says. “New City Neighbors was experiencing a financial crisis. I was brought in to get things going in the right direction. When we received notice that we would have to leave the farm, it was a devastating blow.”

Especially, coming as it did, amid a pandemic.

In light of these challenges, friends and supporters of the nonprofit jumped in to help. When one single donation of $100,000 came in, New City Neighbors purchased an 1890s farmhouse with an acre of land at 1115 Leonard St. NE in the Creston neighborhood.

"We’re super grateful for the support that our community has been giving us—emails, phone calls, donations. This year has been difficult in terms of financial planning because we’re not doing our year-end auction to help raise funds.”

When renovations are complete, the farmhouse will include a commercial kitchen, office space on the second floor, and handicap accessibility. While youth employment and growing food will continue at the former site during 2021, all other programming will shift to the new location.

“Part of the whole separation included us no longer doing curriculum in their building or on their property. All that needs to be relocated,” Tavarez says. “We’re hoping our new base will house most of that programming.”

New City Farm addresses food insecurity in the Creston neighborhood and beyond. People shopping with EBT can use their food assistance dollars to buy New City Farm CSA shares, which they pay for on a weekly basis at 50% off retail price. The farm also provides fresh produce to North End Community Ministries Client Choice Food PantryGreen Apple PantryBaxter Community CenterThe Other WayUCOM, and Access of West Michigan.

A recent partnership with the Grand Valley State University (GVSU) Sustainable Agriculture Program will provide both additional land to grow crops and create educational opportunities for high school students.

“This creates a bridge for our students to think about the Sustainable Agriculture Program at GVSU or even explore other educational opportunities. It gets our students on a college campus,” Taverez says. “We were also extended an opportunity to partner with a couple of local businesses in the food industry in Grand Rapids and create employment opportunities so students in high school get a fuller picture of what the food industry or farm-to-table can look like.”

New City Neighbors is now better poised to meet their mission, “to empower youth to reach their full potential through educational programs and youth employment opportunities,” than ever before.

“We had layers of crisis. Somehow, we have not only made it, but are coming out better than when we started,” Tavarez says. “We are coming out golden.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy New City Neighbors

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