“I want it said of me by those who knew me best, that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower where I thought a flower would grow.” – Abraham Lincoln
For three Sundays in September, a unique opportunity presented itself to dine in nature, eating food made by some of the most talented local chefs. If the setting and food wasn’t enough, these events also raised money for Ypsilanti nonprofit, Growing Hope.
Chefs in the Garden is a fundraiser that the nonprofit hosts each fall to bring awareness and funds to this local charity.
On September 25, I was fortunate enough to attend one of the events that featured Chefs Eve Aronoff and Armando Lopez’s (of Frita Batidos) cooking. As we entered the backyard, we were met by raised garden beds and greenhouses full of plants and smiling faces.
Live jazz music was playing and wine was flowing. We began tasting the passed appetizers – a few highlights included a cherry tomato & thick cut bacon pie, and a creole ratatouille on a baguette with chèvre. I’m still thinking about that ratatouille.
After the cocktail hour was complete, we were seated with our friends at a table and served a multi-course tasting menu which featured gulf shrimp ceviche with crisped plantains, miniature BBQ beef brisket sandwiches topped with slaw and corn, and a quail braised in salsa verde. The meal ended with a lemon apricot bread pudding.
Are you salivating yet?
The overall feeling of the evening was that of inspiration. The chefs, lovers of food and quality ingredients, were inspired by this garden to cook these amazing meals. The attendees were inspired to give their time and money to this organization. And, everyone involved was inspired by this community that has come together to fight the injustice of food inequity that is present at every stage of food accessibility for many communities, including here in Washtenaw County.
Growing Hope’s website states its vision: “Ypsilanti is a community where all people–particularly those with barriers due to race, class, culture, language, ability, and mobility–have access to nourishing local food that is culturally appropriate and affordable, can grow and prepare their own harvests, and may earn a living as a food grower, producer, or entrepreneur.”
Sarah Wixson is President of the board of directors and said of Growing Hope, “We work to implement generational change through access to healthy and affordable food.”
Growing Hope is firmly rooted (pun intended) in the Washtenaw County community. They “concentrate on four sectors of the local food system in which we can make the most impact. Each of these four Impact Areas span the entirety of the local food system from grower to buyer, and everything in between,” according to their website. Those four sectors include farmers markets, farms & gardens, youth & schools, and food entrepreneurship.
Trying to alleviate food inequities in so many sectors could be arduous. Sarah Campbell Jones, the Marketing Manager at Growing Hope said, “I wish people understood Growing Hope’s work better. We have put a concerted effort into getting the word out about our programs – from running the Ypsilanti Farmers Markets to building home vegetable gardens for Ypsilanti residents – but we are involved in so many areas that it can be hard to get a good picture of the organization as a whole.”
Therefore, bringing volunteers and donors to the gardens is important. Seeing the direct work and the faces of those doing the work has an impact that words alone cannot illuminate.
The three events that Growing Hope hosted for their 2022 Chefs in the Garden series featured:
Chef Jordan Balduf & team (of Side Biscuit)
Chef Allison Anastasio & team ( of The Newton of Ypsilanti)
Chef Eve Aronoff, Chef Armando Lopez, & team (of Frita Batidos)
Guests at the event were treated to wine and cocktails courtesy of Spencer Ann Arbor and Everyday Wines in addition to batch cocktails created by Ann Arbor Distilling Co.
Live music was featured at each event by musicians Rollie Tussing, Serge Van der Voo, and The Brawny Lads and the centerpieces were created by The Michigan Flower Growers Co-op and Sweet Acres.
If these events have intrigued you and you’re looking to volunteer in the many gardening programs, attend an educational gardening event (many are free and some hosted by local farmer, TC Collins), apply to use the incubator kitchen, or financially support Growing Hope and its many ways of supporting our local community, then please visit their website for more information.