Partnerships to bring organic market to Beecher

State representative launched crowd funding campaign to purchase building

By Sarah Schuch
The Flint Journal

BEECHER, Mich. (AP) - The hope is to bring fresh, easily accessible foods back to the Beecher area.

With the community losing two grocery stores - Kroger and IGA - something needs to be done to fill the need for food, said Jacky King, an urban farmer in Beecher.

King and his wife, Dora, who own Harvesting Earth Educational Farm, have partnered with Kettering University and its aquaponics system and State Rep. Phil Phelps, D-Flushing, to bring an organic market to the area.

"We've been chasing this for years. It's going to happen," Jacky King told The Flint Journal. "With us living in this food desert, quite frankly with the IGA closing down the street from us, with Kroger closing down, we've lost two grocery stories in a month in our area.

"Now, we'll be raising some of our own food and you basically turn around and sell it to yourselves. It would seem that if you don't have anyone to feed you in your neighborhood, that would be one of your concerns."

Recently, King and his idea gained a little help from Phelps.

Phelps has launched a crowd funding campaign to raise $25,000 to purchase a building for the market.

The fundraising campaign, including a short video about the need for the project can be found online.

The campaign, which launched Sept. 1, will be online for 60 days. As of Sept. 10, $415 had been raised. But Phelps said once the word gets out he's confident the money will start to come in more rapidly.

Phelps said he has been working with King for a while, listening to his plans and goals and was excited to partner with him and his vision.

The idea of fresh produce and an aquaponics system piqued his interest, Phelps said.

"We're going to get something really good done for our community," he said. "For my district, I just wanted to do a project that would actually make an impact. I wanted to be a state rep that didn't just show up to vote in Lansing," Phelps said

There would be so many benefits to this market, Phelps said.

"Little grocery stores all over the (community) have been closing and there are no stores that are sweeping in to replace them. At the same time, people's transportation opportunity to get to the store is not getting better," Phelps said. "People just haven't been able to get to the grocery store to get healthy produce."

Bringing fresh, organic foods to the area has always been a passion of the Kings.

Harvesting Earth sits on about an acre and a half with two hoop houses to grow vegetables, such as carrots, peas, broccoli and lettuce, and to raise chickens.

Operational since June 2008, the farm has been operated all along with the goal of bringing farming to the urban area. In 2013, it became the first urban farm in Genesee County to be certified organic.

In 2012, the Kings brought a fruit tree orchard, just a few blocks away from Harvesting Earth.

King, who will be running the daily operations of what will be called the Harvesting Earth Organic Market, hopes to see the market up and running by next spring or summer. He has an idea for a location in Beecher.

"We can raise the money to do it, now we have to get the people's awareness and support," King said. "If we can get the proper funding, we are ready to open. We will work through the winter and as soon as spring or summer comes we are ready to go. It's quite an operation we are trying to pull off."

The aquaponics system would allow them to grow produce and raise fish indoors all year round.

Kettering University partnered with Metro Community Development, a program that helps disadvantaged youth obtain an education and job training, to create an aquaponics farm, which would put a fish tank on the bottom with a soil bed that has produce growing on the top of the tank.

The system works with waste from the garden used as food for the fish and the water in the fish tank pumped to the plants. After the water is cleaned through the garden, it is recycled back into the fish tank.

The project will now partner with the new Beecher market when it gets up and running. Kettering faculty and students will design and help build and engineer the system for the market, said Matthew Sanders, Kettering University professor of industrial engineering and director of the Center for Culminating Undergraduate Experiences.

Kettering and Sanders have also been involved in helping Harvesting Earth Educational Farm become self-sufficient, with solar panels and wells.

The Kettering team will create technology where the Kings or others at the market can monitor the aquaponics system, to make sure the temperature and settings are correct.

The system will be a huge benefit to the market offering fresh produce and fish for a much lower cost, less water waste and the ability to recycle resources, Sanders said.

"Our community needs healthy food. Our community needs jobs. ... This is one thing we can contribute to the community designing these types of things," Sanders said. "It's good experience for the students. It is good for community. It is good for university. It is good for everybody. It is a win-win situation. We should take advantage of it."

Produce from Harvesting Earth urban farm, King's fruit orchard and other vendors will be brought together to build a large enough supply for the market, King said.

However, he wants to make it clear they don't plan on competing with the Flint Farmers' Market, but he simply wants to partner with it, King said.

"We want to be with the Farmer's Market. We don't want to be a competitor. We want to be like a little brother," King said. "A lot of people cannot get to the Farmer's Market on the bus, carry the bags back or take their babies with them. We would like to almost have a satellite (location) in Beecher."

Dick Ramsdell, Flint Farmers' Market manager, said he had not heard of the Beecher market idea, but thinks it would be a benefit to the community.

Just like the Flint Farmers' Market, there are others out there working hard to bring better food to urban areas and make it more accessible, he said.

"I would congratulate him for continuing to be a pioneer in trying to bring good food to the folks in his Beecher district," Ramsdell said. "Anything that somebody like Jacky can do is an asset to the community."

King said not just any farmer will be able to set up at the Beecher market, however. They will have to make the cut and be mostly organic.

"We're going to try and keep it organic and natural as we can," King said. "This market is really going to be special. People want it. We've asked. ... We got to do something to sell more than what we sell in our community."