Michigan Churches Were Planning Huge Urban Farm For The Poor, But Neighbors Complained

Several churches were planning to team up to offer the community a huge urban farm in Battle Creek that would help families put healthy, fresh food on the table. The pastors of eight Methodist churches in “Cereal City” noticed that a lot of people were going hungry every day. Beside Washington Heights United Methodist Church, acres of land sat vacant.

“I mentioned we had this land that we could start a garden,” said Marshall Murphy Jr., Pastor of Washington Heights United Methodist Church in an interview with News Channel 3. The pastors of the eight churches in Battle Creek, Michigan came up with a plan. Two of the pastors excitedly talked with News Channel 3 about their plans for the urban garden on Tuesday.

“We’re going to do three rows of fruit trees, apples, pears, and the third will be peaches or plums, then we’ll have 60 to 90 foot plots of individual vegetables,” said Scott Bouldrey, Pastor of Christ United Methodist Church. They spoke of a greenhouse and their plans to buy another site where the band of churches could raise fish. “We hope to have 220,000 lbs. of fruits and vegetables come out of here on a yearly basis.”

The food was to go to food pantries, soup kitchens, and other organizations in the area. They wanted to make sure that the poor people in the areas around Battle Creek had access to healthy foods so that besides for feeding the hungry, they could provide nutrition for good health, the pastors said.

Now those plans are on hold, according to Battle Creek Enquirer.

Neighbors complained.

According to Battle Creek Enquirer, some neighbors of Washington Heights United Methodist Church do not want a community garden in their neighborhood.

A town hall meeting was held at the church after the pastors say they were approached by residents who were upset that they were never asked their opinions when the churches started making their plans. Pastor Bouldrey reportedly apologized to the crowd at the meeting for not asking the neighbors if they were OK with the community garden.

“I would like to begin with an apology, that we are here at this stage with these emotions is my fault and my fault only,” Bouldrey said. “I just jumped right in and I have caused harm and I ask for forgiveness.”

The neighbors were concerned about increased traffic, preserving the historic property, and worries that their property values could fall.

“I still support the idea, but I still do not desire it in this particular space,” said resident Vivian Laws Ritter after the discussion. “I still am not changed in my aspect of what I want to look at when I walk out my front door.”

Michigan has been getting national media attention over the small and urban farm controversy ever since a new ruling by the Michigan Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development drastically reduced small and urban farming rights that residents in the Mitten State had grown accustomed to.

Sprout Urban Farms is a nonprofit organization in Battle Creek that has been working with residents to establish community gardens. In 2011, the Fair Food Network granted Sprout Urban Farms a large sum of money and after that more funding followed from the Battle Creek Community Foundation. Sprout Urban Farming has helped Battle Creek garner national attention, and the community was becoming known, according to the Sprout Urban Farm website, as a “cooler place to live.”

Michigan Small Farm Council explained the importance of small and urban farming to Michiganders on the organization’s Facebook Page, referencing an MLIVE article about impending cuts to the the “food stamp” program also known as SNAP.

“Our state is not only putting up obstacles to those who want to grow their own food, they are simultaneously sitting back and allowing food stamp cuts for Michigan citizens. What are people without jobs, without the right to grow food, and without food stamps supposed to do?”

Another meeting is scheduled for October 29, at which point the pastors of the churches hope they will be able to figure out a way to still have an urban farm for the less fortunate residents in Battle Creek without upsetting any of their neighbors.

[Photo via Sprouts Urban Farm of Battle Creek on Facebook]