Grow Benzie was established in September of 2008 when a group of local residents organized to renovate an abandoned Benzonia farmstead into a community-centered garden space. By 2009, Grow Benzie was providing garden plots for 20 individuals and established its own successful Farmers Market. Gradually, more educational opportunities were offered to residents, the greenhouses and assembly building were upgraded for full-time use, and a Sewing Studio was created in the home office. In July of 2013 our state-certified Incubator Kitchen was opened to the public and by December 2013, four people had introduced products to retail. At the end of 2014, Grow Benzie had established its own line of credit and was employing two part-time employees and a full time executive director. Grow Benzie’s mission is to enrich our region by fostering positive action to increase access to healthful foods, jobs, life skills, and each other and by providing a community place that supports and nurtures these activities. Our primary goal is to deliver strong programs that align with our mission and to meet community needs.
In 2010, Grow Benzie instituted the Bridge Card program, plus became the administrator of the Double Up Food Bucks program for three Farmers Markets in 2011, making fresh produce available to low income families. We have instituted outreach partnerships within the community, including Frankfort-Elberta and Benzie Central School systems, BACN (Benzie Area Christian Neighbors), Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities and Munson Healthcare. We built a hoop house at one of the four local elementary schools, where gardens and produce were grown. Our outreach to the schools had Grow Benzie volunteers working with FoodCorps members bi-weekly in Platte River Elementary serving 200 children, providing a wide variety of tasting opportunities for all and developing the gardens and greenhouse.
In 2015, our event calendar included classes, workshops and community events, starting with our Winter Dinner & Discussion series in January. Through April, we partnered with organizations to offer community meals followed with timely dialogues led by noteworthy local speakers. In February and October, we co-sponsored (with MSU Extension) a Cooking Matters with Families series where local parents and their children enrolled in free classes to learn about nutrition and healthy food choices. In the past few years, we have held hundreds of seminars, workshops, and classes in farming, gardening, nutrition, entrepreneurship, and culinary arts, and will continue to collaborate with local schools, non-profits, and businesses in the future. In 2015, Grow Benzie also completed an organizational capacity assessment and a three year strategic plan under the guidance of Northsky Nonprofit Network, identifying key strategies and a baseline for us to reflect and plan around our mission.
We added a food truck to our repertoire in 2016, partnering with Goodwill Industries to provide life skills & jobs while serving healthful food to people throughout Northwest Lower Michigan. Our menu utilizes seasonal ingredients grown on our farm and at farmers markets and also offers entrepreneurs an opportunity to build their own business as an incubator.
Thanks to generous support from both the Health Department of Northwest Michigan and Rotary Charities of Traverse City, Grow Benzie made some major property enhancements in 2017 to include edible walking trails & mini-golf, expanded accessibility & parking, and signage throughout the farmstead. As an agritourism destination, these upgrades not only provide learning activities for visitors at our Monday Farmers Market, but it provides recreational opportunities for individuals and organizations that rent the Event Center.