Street Talk

Street Talk: B Corps drive urban farming

Rink royalty.

October 21, 2016
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Urban farming nonprofit Urban Roots will be able to meet more students where they are thanks to a $5,000 gift from five Grand Rapids B Corps.

Brewery Vivant, Essence Restaurant Group, 616 Lofts, Image Shoppe and Catalyst Partners raised the money to support Urban Roots’ Mobile Classroom program, a physical farm on wheels that travels throughout Grand Rapids to different schools, neighborhoods and organizations educating children and community members about urban gardening.

Urban Roots will use the donation to purchase a retired ambulance to expand its existing program. The vehicle will be used to give workshops on gardening and is filled with educational materials, gardening tools, seeds, seedlings and other supplies.

Urban Roots, 1316 Madison Ave. SE, is a community farm serving neighborhoods on the south side of Grand Rapids.

“We are grateful for the overwhelming support from the B Corp business community to support and expand gardening right here in Grand Rapids,” said Levi Gardner, executive director of Urban Roots. “Thanks to these businesses, we’re able to expand our Mobile Classroom, so we can reach even more neighborhoods and teach more community members about urban farming.”

“We are proud to support Urban Roots and its mission to help local residents develop and grow community gardens,” said Drew Coppess, director of sustainability at 616 Lofts. “Urban Roots is making a positive impact by increasing food access in the community, and our entire team is excited to be a part of this great initiative.”

Elissa Hillary, executive director of Local First, said the city’s B Corps are committed to “positively growing” Grand Rapids, and this partnership with Urban Roots is a “great example” of how for-profits and nonprofits can work toward a common goal.

B Corp stands for benefit corporation, which is a designation earned by companies that are focused on environmental and social change in addition to profit.

There are 15 Michigan-based businesses certified as B Corps, including 13 from Grand Rapids. Other West Michigan companies designated as certified B Corps include Cascade Engineering, Gazelle Sports, The Gluten Free Bar, Bazzani Associates, Betterway Imports and Highland Group.

Finally flowing

Despite missing his ArtPrize target, Detroit-based Atwater Brewery owner Mark Rieth said it was a relief to have the new Grand Rapids taproom open.

As the anchor tenant of The Rowe, Atwater has a prominent location on Michigan Street and Monroe Avenue, plus brewery openings always have great attendance in Grand Rapids, so Rieth likely can rest easy.

Atwater’s third taproom, joining two in the Detroit area, was announced last year following a personal courting by CWD Real Estate Investment partner Sam Cummings.

Rieth said his primary goal in opening a Grand Rapids taproom was to connect the two largest cities in Michigan, while also forming a personal connection with the brewery’s customers in West Michigan.

“We didn’t want to go just anywhere,” he said. “That’s not what we want to do, pop up in random places. It’s a calculated reason, connecting two cities and having that opportunity to showcase our products to Grand Rapids.”

Rieth has more plans up his sleeves for Atwater as it continues to grow. The brewery likely will brew more than 50,000 barrels of beer next year, up from approximately 40,000 this year. He has long-term aspirations of growing the brand to more than 100,000 barrels.

Rieth also expects to open at least five more taprooms in hand-picked cities across the country in the next five years, and that’s not including the brewery Atwater is building in Austin, Texas.

“It’s hard to grow in nonlocal markets, and part of why we’re doing this is to get closer to our customers,” Rieth said. “We want the customers to touch it, feel it, see it.”

Blythfield’s ace

Blythefield Country Club will have a new look next year when the LPGA rolls into town.

The 88-year-old golf course has started construction on updates to its clubhouse and golf building.

An official groundbreaking is Oct. 25, but the approximately $2 million project already is underway, Blythefield member Tim Koster said.

The updates largely are driven by the success of the Meijer LPGA Classic, which will host its fourth annual tournament at Blythefield in 2017.

Koster said the club had focused its attention on the course, but the membership decided it was time to update the rest. Included in the updates will be redesign of the dining areas to create a more “pub-like” atmosphere and an outdoor patio expansion.

“… We will now have great dining and social facilities to match our world-class golf course,” Blythefield President Kim Gary said in a release.

Millage musings

John Ball Zoo and the Grand Rapids Public Museum are looking forward to the results of a millage vote on the Nov. 8 ballot: 0.44 mills spread across 10 years. If passed, the proposal is an annual increase of $37.40 per year, or $3.12 per month, for the average homeowner. The funds would go toward expanding programming and exhibits for both the zoo and the museum.

“It will be used to care for animals and aging exhibits,” said Peter D’Arienzo, CEO of John Ball Zoo. He also said the millage would help fund the zoo’s master plan. “Some of the things we’re going to do right away are making the zoo is more accessible, repairing aging facilities and building new exhibits. We’re looking at building a stingray exhibit.

“I think certain investments in certain public institutions create a return for the community. The Detroit Zoo, for instance: It wasn’t that long ago that that zoo was the same size as our zoo is now. They’ve really grown it to be an economic powerhouse.”

Dale Robertson, CEO of the Grand Rapids Public Museum, said the museum also looks forward to expanding its offerings if the millage passes.

“Our plan is to make our exhibits more accessible so everything will be able to be handled. Being able to see all the artifacts engages all the senses. With our history and science and ethnographic programs, we facilitate inspiration and education,” Robertson said.

D’Arienzo, referring to the results of a recent Grand Valley State University study, said the zoo and museum’s economic impact stands at $62.2 million: “That number will get even bigger if the millage passes.”

Shirt trick

The Mitten State is giving Mr. Hockey a crown.

As a tribute to Detroit Red Wings legend Gordie Howe, who died at age 88 in June, the Grand Rapids apparel company is selling a limited edition “King of Hockey” shirt. The shirt design features Howe’s famous winking grin and the blade of his stick scrawled with “1,000,” commemorating Howe becoming the first player in NHL history to score 1,000 goals. Alongside the image is a worthy moniker — “The King of Hockey.”

A portion of the proceeds from sales of the $30 shirt will go to The Howe Foundation, which supports the funding of youth hockey programs in Michigan for underprivileged athletes who otherwise might not be able to play the sport.

It isn’t The Mitten State’s first Howe-centric design, as the company has partnered with the Howe family for three years and has a variety of shirts honoring one of the greatest hockey players of all time. But it might be the first to come with a disclaimer: “Not responsible if this shirt gives you the urge to elbow things,” the retailer’s Facebook page warns.

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