UIX: Local industries grow together in Brewer's Grove

The Brewer's Grove, a group effort between local brewers and the Friends of GR Parks, celebrates two of Grand Rapids' most unique titles, Tree City and Beer City USA.
Beer took root in Grand Rapids long ago. It's a tradition that grew with the population booms of the industrial revolution and two world wars. The Grand Rapids Public Museum and even regional history books may note the city for its quality workspace designs, but beer has been influential for an even longer period.

Of course, Grand Rapids' love of fermentation and furniture would never have sprouted were it not for a robust logging industry at the same time. As each of those fields have grown and adapted with innovation, they remain uniquely planted in the soil of West Michigan.

There's no better example of these industries branching out into the community than the Brewer's Grove in Riverside Park. The Grove, a group effort between local brewers and the Friends of GR Parks, celebrates two of Grand Rapids' most unique titles, Tree City and Beer City USA.

Friends of GR Parks' Urban Forest Project Coordinator Daria Gosztyla says the Brewers Grove allows local breweries the chance to collaborate and do something positive for the city.

"Beer people and tree people are pretty similar--both crazy about their passions," she says.

And Grand Rapids is full of both. Along with Friends of GR Parks and the Urban Forest Project, there are 16 breweries involved in the Brewer's Grove. Now in its third year, the Grove is literally growing stronger, with more trees added each planting season.

According to Jackson VanDyke of Harmony Brewing, the Grove began not long after Grand Rapids won Beer City USA in 2012. The community's brewers were looking for opportunities to both celebrate the title and give back to those who made it possible. VanDyke and his family, who also own Bear Manor Properties, already had landscaping and tree planting experience, and knew some of the Friends of GR Parks leaders from college. 

"It all came together. The Brewer's Grove was a natural fit," VanDyke said. "The folks at Harmony initially met with the folks from the Friends of Grand Rapids Parks to see if we could find a partnership to do that, and after a couple of beers the Brewer's Grove project was born."

"We took the idea to the brewers, and they loved it and made it their own. It is an idea that everyone can get behind. Who doesn't love trees?"

Gosztyla, with a Natural Resource Management degree from Grand Valley State University, and Margaret Studer, a licensed forester, certainly do. And they're hoping the Brewers Grove brings others to acquire the same arboreal zeal. Gosztyla says the urban landscape of Grand Rapids can be a harsh environment for growing trees, and keeping them healthy and strong is no small task.

"We have to work to routinely maintain trees after they are planted so they can stay healthy," she says. "This means watering them for two years after they are planted, mulching them and properly pruning them.

The trees planted in the Grove are the living manifestation of local brewers' passion, Gosztyla says. The brewers not only plant these trees themselves, they brew tree-themed beers that fund the plantings.

"The trees themselves provide habitat for wildlife, they sequester carbon and mitigate storm water," she says. "Urban trees are also extremely important for providing shade, removing air pollutants, and providing recreational and aesthetic benefits!—I mean just look at Riverside park and it’s dense canopy, it’s a memorable park and very beautiful!"

Jacob Brenner, head brewer of BarFly Ventures, says he and his team are excited about being involved in a project that emphasizes sustainability.

"Canopy cover in a city is an indicator of a healthy and happy city. So the local brewers are really making Grand Rapids a better place to live," Brenner says. "I grew up in the northern UP and have always been an avid outdoorsman, so the more trees the better as far as I am concerned."

VanDyke says collaboration is a common occurrence in the West Michigan brewing community. And the opportunity to work with organizations outside of that community, like Friends of GR Parks, was both fun and mutually beneficial.

"It is good to know that we are beautifying the city that supports us so much, and it is important for us to have a positive environmental impact as well," he says. "It is fun and it puts a spotlight on all of us. Working with the Friends of Grand Rapids Parks has been amazing."

When the first seeds were sown in the Brewer's Grove in 2013, organizers raised over $8,000 earmarked for planting trees in the Grove and elsewhere in the city. In following years, the Grove's annual party brought in closer to $4,500, with a grant from DTE providing a further $4,000 in 2015. The Brewer's Grove has raised a total of $21,831.50 and planted 85 trees in its lifetime.

While the tree beers are easy to find come fall, the main attraction of the Brewer's Grove project is its Planting and Party in the Park, hosted by the Friends of GR Parks. There, the community gets to meet those behind the brewing process and enjoy music from local bands. While beer isn't served at the park, Brewer's Grove Party attendees are welcome to bring along their favorite growler.

This year, the party will be held on Oct. 14 and 15 more large trees will be added to the Grove.

"We’ve extended outside of Riverside Park to Covell Dog park, too," Gosztyla says. "We will reach planting capacity at Riverside this year and will be able to 'branch out' and add trees to other parks in the coming years with the brewers. We’ve been able to raise all the funds for the trees that have been planted from the Tree Beers that the breweries create and sell on tap."

VanDyke says the different brewers often make a point to try other breweries' tree beers throughout the season. Not just as brewers with respect for their craft, but as neighbors, fellow community members, and friends.

"We want to integrate into the neighborhood we are in and be a partner and a positive force in that area. We try to listen to the people who live and work where we are, and we partner with the different neighborhood associations in order to achieve this," VanDyke says of his work with Harmony. "We appreciate those who have come before us and paved the way, and we love to be in community with everyone who is involved in this great scene."
For more information on the Brewers Grove, visit http://www.friendsofgrparks.org/brewers-grove/
Urban Innovation Exchange highlights the people and projects transforming West Michigan through sustainable efforts. Matthew Russell is the editor for UIX Grand Rapids. Contact him at [email protected].
Photography by Steph Harding & Alyson Mabie
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