FLINT -- (09/26/17) - Students at Kettering University are using a grant from Ford Motor Company to help implement some changes at a local hoop house run by Asbury Church.
The hoop house, think of it as a greenhouse, helps to provide families with healthy foods - and the more automated the house is, the easier it will be to grow healthy food year-round, and grow more of it.
Asbury United Methodist Church in Flint is one of three community health centers - meaning they work with the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan to bring healthy food to the community. The church started building gardens seven years ago and is now stepping up their game with hoop houses.
"We have borage, we have basil, thyme, oregano, sage, kale, lettuces, cabbage, tomatoes, beans, mustard greens, squash," said Terry Kinzie, of Asbury United Methodist Church CDC.
"We're planting orchards, berry vines, strawberries, but also we're looking at all the various types of produce and herbs," said Tommy McDoniel, the Pastor of Asbury United Methodist Church.
With a hoop house, planting and growing can continue year-round. Everything here has a purpose - the cardboard creates moisture and weed barriers, and the flowers help to provide nutrients to the produce.
"They'll do things like attract pollinators, repel certain pests, and they can enhance the flavor of each other, stuff like that," said Kinzie.
Now Kettering is stepping in to further the project, all with the help of a 25-thousand dollar grant from Ford. Kettering received one of ten grants given out to universities across the country as part of the Ford College Community Challenge, and students will use the money to help make the house more sustainable.
There are a couple of different things the students have been working on.
"One of them is the solar system," said Noah Lukins, a Mechanical Engineering Senior at Kettering University. "It actually has the capability of raising the side panels of the hoop house. What that does for us is allows us to control the temperature inside and grow things that might not typically be grown in Michigan."
The french drain is the other item on the list.
"One thing you have to do when growing is irrigating, or getting water to the plant," said Lukins. "So one thing we wanted to do is capture all of the rainwater from the surface area of the roof, and one way of doing that is creating a french drain here, and there will be a reservoir in this area. And then capture that using another water pump powered by solar energy, pumping that into a water tower, and gravity will feed it into the hoop house."
While the growing operation will still have to be tended to, the watering and temperature control will then all be automated, and the hoop house can grow to a larger-scale production, helping to feed more families.
McDoniel added that it isn't just about the food, but also hope.
"To have motivated students be willing to spend time here and teach and share, and lead, and mentor, I hope will motivate a lot of the younger people to say, 'you know, there's a better life than living in the streets'," said McDoniel.
Lukins noted that sometimes a college campus can be in a bubble in the town, and he's glad that Kettering is breaking that mold and getting involved.
"In short it's terribly exciting," Lukins said. "I really am passionate about being involved in your community and being a responsible citizen, and this is a great way of doing that!"
The goal is to have five more hoop houses across the city - four owned by community members in their neighborhood, and the last owned by Asbury Church.
They'd like to create a hoop cooperative, which would also include more students from Kettering getting involved. Several student organizations on campus have already reached out to Lukins regarding the project - which means lots of hands ready to work.
If you'd like to get information about volunteering, contact Asbury United Methodist Church at (810)-235-0016.