Urban-grown in Muskegon: Part 1

Urban Growers in Muskegon are facing more challenges than just pests and the weather.

Urban farming is becoming a growing trend across the state of Michigan. While much of the attention has been placed on the growth of food and new urban farmers in Detroit, cities across the state have seen a movement to bring food production into the city limits. This trend has created new urban landscapes with raised beds, hoop-houses and rows of diverse vegetables growing in dense residential areas. Although these images may sound idyllic to those folks working to create a more sustainable food system, urban agriculture is butting heads with traditional zoning and urban planning regulations in many locations.

One such place where some troubles are arising is in Muskegon, Michigan. While Muskegon may not be considered a “hot bed” of progressive urban agriculture activity, several growing operations have sprouted over the last few seasons. One in particular is called McLaughlin Grows, and operates on a few different lots in the McLaughlin Neighborhood just east of downtown Muskegon. The growing operation is overseen by a non-profit community organization called Community Encompass. The main farming operation is located on property adjacent to the Muskegon County Health Department, with plans to start a new second location across the street from the Mercy Health Hackley Campus.

McLaughlin Grows is in a state of transition after having to move their original and larger growing operation to the new site at Mercy Health from the previous site at a lot behind the local Good Will Store. This site was originally given to the farm, but plans for an expanded Good Will Store and parking lot on the property caused a hasty move. This move included the deconstruction of an existing hoop house as well as removal of several vegetable beds.

The McLaughlin Grows operation is about more than just growing vegetables, which it does quite well for a weekly neighborhood CSA, it is also focused on growing a stronger surrounding community. Like a similar operation in Grand Rapids, New City Urban Farm, McLaughlin Grows employs several area youths as summer interns on the farm, teaching farming as well as life skills. They also provide learning opportunities to children attending summer school that visit the farm daily to work and grow their own produce. Other summer school classes that focus on culinary and kitchen skills use the produce from the farm to prepare meals for the summer school class.

As previously mentioned McLaughlin Grows has been free of issues with the City of Muskegon since they are operating as a non-profit. However, several other current and future urban agriculture operations in Muskegon are possibly going to be affected by the ability to legally sell the produce they grow within Muskegon’s city limits. Look for more information on how other Muskegon urban farms are being affected by new and changing regulations in Part two of this article.

For more information on alleviating food deserts through mobile markets in your own communities visit the Michigan State University Extension Community Food System page and search for Extension experts in your county.

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