Hope Lovell at the MSU Tollgate Farm in Novi, Michigan.
When Hope Lovell went to the grocery store in March of 2020 and saw the lack of fresh produce, meats, and other essential items, she realized something. No matter how much money you have, if the food system is broken and you don’t know how to access food, your family is at risk.
“I was driving around my neighborhood one day in rural Grand Ledge, and I saw all of these food stands. I thought, “Huh, this is so interesting. When I go into the city and suburbs to the grocery store, there is no food, but when I’m driving past these farms there is plenty of food. What’s going on here?”
At that point, Hope realized that she wanted to get closer to the land and do more to understand farming not only for herself, but for her kids and extended family as well. Hope has worked in the non-profit sector for 14 years and is a public health leader in the local Lansing area. She has always had an interest in food and health, as well as how people can be more intentional about leveraging food to increase their health.
While Hope is from Detroit, her family moved from the South and have always been growers. Her great-grandmother had a beautiful garden in her backyard on the East side of Michigan where Hope grew up eating fresh fruits and vegetables every year.
“We could sit out all day and never be hungry,” says Hope. “But somehow, in their attempt to find good jobs and make sure that their children had access to financial freedom, my ancestors didn’t teach us about how to have access to good food.”
This began Hope’s journey to understanding more about farming practices and the food distribution chain. She recognized that the empty shelves in the grocery stores during the pandemic were not due to a food shortage, but a food distribution breakdown. As a Michigan State University alumnus, Hope began to reach out and connect with her alumni network and found out about the MSU Organic Farms. After talking with some people there, she learned about the upcoming MSU Organic Farmer Training Program starting in April of 2021.
When Hope looked at the price and asked about scholarship opportunities, she discovered GreenStone’s Grow Forward Grant. Since 2018, GreenStone has awarded up to $40,000 in grant money to assist young, beginning, and small farmers expand their knowledge and grow their businesses through educational events and professional resources. Hope applied for this grant and received $500 toward the MSU program.
The MSU Organic Farmer Training program runs from April-October and combines classes with hands-on learning. While Hope is still in the middle of the program, she has already gained a wealth of knowledge. The program focuses not only on farming practices but also some of the business and strategy around farming.
“Farming is very different now than it was even 30 years ago, and the MSU program is helping you create a business plan, whether you already have a farm or you would like to start one. Our homework is systematically helping us to build out this business plan so we can come to businesses such as GreenStone to get assistance in buying, launching, or growing a farm.”
While Hope still has a few more months of learning, she is looking at a property not far from her home that is about 10-12 acres with a house. Her goal is to use a model called “Work, Live, Grow” and build a small sustainable living community where people who are interested in farming can live, work the farm, and have access to good food and housing for themselves. She would love to work alongside another non-profit to make that happen.
“Most of us only know how to get our food from the grocery store; we don’t know how to partner with the local farmers. I am passionate about educating others about the importance of connections with local farmers and the benefits of farming,” says Hope. “So often people think that they have to have a minimum of 100 acres and model crop business models to be successful, but this class has taught me that you can have a one-acre farm that grows six different crops and still be very successful.”
Hope encourages any young, beginning, or small farmer to apply for the grant, saying “I would absolutely recommend this grant to others! The MSU program and GreenStone grant were a great help to me. The program taught me the skills, and GreenStone gave me access to the information by providing the grant.”
GreenStone looks forward to supporting many more young, beginning, and small farmers like Hope who are looking to expand their knowledge, and grow or start their businesses. Visit GreenStone's website to learn more about the specialized loan programs, grants, mentorships and resources designed specifically to support young, beginning and small farmers.