Growing Friends & Food for Abundant Living
Partnering with Bates Place Neighbors
Bates Place Neighbors (BPN), based in Grand Rapids, MI, is passionate about neighborhood strengthening. In 2021, Great Lakes Urban formally linked with BPN as a supporting partner. Wayne Squires, BPN director, remarked, "We so appreciate the ongoing training and coaching support Great Lakes Urban has provided in recent years. Our staff has benefited from the energy, wisdom, and encouragement of the leaders who have helped us take next steps in neighbor-centered strategies of community flourishing."
Given the theme of this newsletter, we want to introduce Josh Holwerda, lead connector on the BPN staff. Josh loves to initiate community gardens. Community gardens not only improve the communities’ ability to eat well, they are also an metaphor for the abundance of life. In a recent interview on what personally motivates him Josh said, “Greenhouses and gardens are very therapeutic for me. The smells, the growing process, the production of fresh, nutritious foods… it all helps me settle down and feel more connected to the joyful rhythms of everyday life.”
He shared memories of his dad who bought a greenhouse business, Holwerda Interior Plantscaping. At this greenhouse, customers were welcomed and made to feel like an important part of the business. It was also a place where Josh learned that if one is diligent in the tasks of cultivating, planting, and nurturing; good and beautiful things are produced.
What does all of this have to do with his work as a connector? Josh has a good deal of experience in using gardening to encourage neighbors to work together in a way that brings joy and mutual benefit. He saw some amazing things in his three years as an organizer in Muskegon’s McLaughlin neighborhood and during his four years working in the Alger Heights neighborhood of Grand Rapids.
“There is no need for anything truly unique or special, just a group of neighbors with a shared interest, a willingness to learn and participate, and an opportunity to offer their skills and resources to each other. This is such an unintimidating way for neighbors to meaningfully connect and literally, feel productive,” he said. Josh has witnessed simple community gardening projects become “launch pads” for other neighborhood activities including home-to-home childcare among parent gardeners, educational opportunities related to composting and rain barrels, local artists and cooks “setting up shop”, progressive food-to-table dinner events, a 5K-run fundraiser, and even the creation of “pocket parks” in collaboration with local government leaders. It works!
For Josh, the integration of his connector role with sustainable local gardening continues to provide therapy for his soul. “I have the joy and privilege of building trust with neighbors in such tangible, hands-on ways and bearing witness to their personal empowerment stories. It doesn’t get much better than that!”