Does crowdfunding work for large or established nonprofits?

Here something we hear fairly often:

Sure, crowdfunding works for small startups raising a seed  money, or loosely affiliated groups of neighbors working together for the first time, but why would my large, relatively well-established organization want to crowdfund? After all, we have several established revenue streams, including foundation or corporate funding, an active list of engaged individual donors, maybe even a membership program. Where’s the added value in a crowdfunding campaign, especially if it means more work for my fundraising team?

Who We SErve

[Nearly a quarter of our ioby Leaders represent larger, more established nonprofits]

We’d never argue that crowdfunding is the best fundraising tool at all times, but when used to complement other funding streams, it can actually help build a more sustainable organization in the long term. Here are some instances in which crowdfunding can be the right move:

 

1. you have a depressed donor base you want to invigorate

If you have a robust development approach, and you are already sending individual donors authentic thanks and detailed communications, you probably don’t need this. But if your donor base could use new life breathed into it, a crowdfunding campaign can be very satisfying in addition to regular annual giving because:

  • the asks are very concrete
  • the funding goal is clearly communicated
  • donors can understand their contribution towards the overall goal
  • generally speaking, crowdfunded projects are typically implemented very quickly and those implementations, when communicated with the same speed, can be very satisfying to a donor.

In order to make this approach work, we’d recommend using both your email or mailing subscriber list and your current donors, and differentiating the ask very clearly from other asks, such as an end of year, annual appeal, and putting many months’ distance between those distinct campaigns so you have plenty of time to thank and follow up.

 

2. you want to audience-test a new program or approach

Crowdfunding can be an important way to say, “You are all familiar with our  core work, which is critical to providing our basic mission-based services. We’re interested in trying this new approach and we’d like your support in experimenting with it—something institutional funders would hesitate to do.” If it’s applicable to your organization, ioby supports and encourages both permitted and non-permitted activities in public space to get the attention of government and to work for justice—unpermitted activity is something few institutional funders have the leeway to support.

 

3. you need to rapidly and urgently respond to a crisis

Many in our sector want to be able to serve our constituents quickly, compassionately, and effectively during a crisis, but restricted funding, long turnaround times for grants, and other challenges can make this difficult. Crowdfunding can be a way to build up additional unrestricted funds when your base is very activated. The motivation is clear, the ask is concrete, and the urgency is palpable. These are the most important components of a good crowdfunding campaign. Because of the urgency, your most loyal supporters will be inclined to share the campaign with their networks.

 

4. you want to expand your base of younger donors

A crowdfunding campaign can be a useful way to use impassioned supporters to leverage their own networks. Similar to a peer-to-peer campaign, you can recruit your most passionate, energetic, youngest donors (even if they are giving at very small levels) and ask them to run a campaign to fund part of your work. In this way, you convert your donors into cheerleaders and solicitors on your behalf. Their personal ask to their friends is more compelling than an institutional ask, and your reach is expanded. This approach, of course, takes staff time to support.

 

keep in mind:

  • Real urgency is the most important part of a crowdfunding campaign. The fundraising appeal must be different from an annual appeal and distinct from language on your donate page.
  • You want to keep integrity in your brand. When you use any crowdfunding platform, you’re directing your base to a third party site, and you want to keep the number of clicks to get to the donation as few as possible. It’s important to think through when you want to have complete brand control and when you don’t need it.
  • Crowdfunding is a real campaign, and it takes work. These campaigns are  best executed in collaboration with program work, and not by a development team in isolation — and that coordination takes work.
  • Remember that crowdfunding is an important source of unrestricted funds. So strike the delicate balance of being specific while keeping the way you spend the funds as unrestricted as possible.

Are you with an established nonprofit and have questions about how crowdfunding can support your programs and complement your development portfolio? Reach out! erin@ioby.org.

 

Awesome Project: Help BANK BLACK bring financial inclusion to our communities


Born in the wake of last summer’s shootings and out of Black Lives Matter, Bank Black is an increasingly high profile  social movement that aims to bring the issue of financial inclusion to the forefront of the larger Black community’s awareness. Its message is this: why should we continue to put our money into the hands of large national banks that don’t speak for our Black community, don’t understand our needs, and don’t support us?   There are relatively few  Black-owned banks in the US – One United, Liberty, Industrial, Citizens Trust – But why not find them, get to know them, and put our money there?

“It’s not anecdotal,” says Justin Garrett Moore, a key Bank Black leader and  Executive Director of NYC’s Public Design Commission  by day (and an ioby board member), of the problem of the big national banks failing to support Black communities. “You look at the FDIC data, and 13-14% of people in America are Black, and these big banks loan 1% of their money to Black people. It’s not rocket science.”

 

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[Justin Garrett Moore of Bank Black]

 

voices in the ether, feet on the ground

So far, the movement has taken place primarily online and on social media, with celebrities like Killer Mike and Solange raising their voices to join the call for action. Now, Moore and his team are turning the attention of the Bank Black movement to in-person events, as well. Think fliers on lampposts, lively gatherings outside of banks that make you want to pop over to see what’s up. Think bank-account sign up parties, community board meetings, booths at street fairs. Time to get feet on the pavement and bring financial inclusion activists together in real time – to share the ultimately physical act of voting, literally, with their dollars.

“Our ioby campaign is raising money to create the kit of materials,” explains Moore, “that we’ll be developing for those types of in-person community events, either at banks or in communities. And essentially, it’ll be something that people around the country can use to connect with us, and we’ll have a little set of materials so we can say ‘ok, print out these fliers, here’s a slide-deck, here’s some materials that you can use for email blasts. So they’re just ready to go, and people across the country will be able to deploy those.” Having a kit of materials accessible to leaders on the ground will give the movement a cohesive and unified voice – something it will need to hold onto, as it grows.

 

Is choosing a bank really life or death?

It’s a delicate thing, asking people who are already protesting life and death in the streets to pause for a moment and consider their bank accounts. As Moore explains, “it’s important that people focus a lot – especially now with Trump – on the more immediate things like their physical safety and basic rights. But there are these other issues that tend not to get addressed as much. People are upset and protesting for all the people getting killed – as they should – and that takes energy and focus away from other conversations, like the fact that we don’t have financial equity in our communities.”

 

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[The formerly vacant lot the Moore family  turned into a community garden in their Indianapolis neighborhood]

 

How it feels to be shut out of the system

Financial inclusion is a very personal, very fraught issue for Moore. In 2011, when he and his family – who’ve always been incredibly active in their inner-city Indianapolis community – decided to create a nonprofit called Urban Patch, they started by finding a vacant lot and vacant home to fix up as a community hub and a model of possibility. They found the right house and started approaching banks, but despite the fact that they had the down payment ready to go, were preapproved, and had an 800+ credit score, no one would give them a mortgage. When Moore talks about it, his voice  wavers with profound sadness and frustration.

“It’s a complicated story,” Moore explains. “It’s not like the bank was saying outright ‘oh, you’re Black, you can’t get a loan.’ It was a combination of issues that happen in Black communities. In that gentrifying neighborhood, we would see white buyers come in, and they could get financing, but somehow that didn’t work out for us, even trying three different banks and being from the neighborhood. Three different appraisers came out, they come to the neighborhood, they see a lot of Black people, and magically the house isn’t worth very much. But a white person goes into a neighborhood, and the appraiser shows up, the fact that a white person is there means the house is worth something. No one wants to say that and acknowledge that that still exists in America, but I can tell you that it does.”

Eventually, Moore bought the house in cash, and worked with a small local community bank to get the loan to fix the house up. But getting Urban Patch up and running would have been a whole lot easier had their been a Black-owned, small-scale bank in Indianapolis – one that would have understood his situation. He’d like to see others given that opportunity.

 

For more info, or to donate, check out the Bank Black ioby campaign page. And stay tuned on social media (#BankBlack) for Bank Black events in your area.

Feeling inspired? Want to take action in YOUR neighborhood? If you have awesome ideas about how to make your town greener, safer, and more fun, let us help! Tell us your awesome idea right here. We’d love to help you get started today.

Pssst…. In OTHER ioby news: Ready to take action, but still looking for the right idea, or the most engaging language to use when you go to share ideas with your community? Check out our new Healthier Communities webinar!

Detroit Food Academy: Where tomorrow’s entrepreneurs are making today’s tastiest snacks


This spring, ioby and Eastern Market are partnering to present the Eastern Market Growing Communities Matching Grant Challenge. We’re offering 17 awesome local food entrepreneurs the chance to double the donations made to their projects on ioby’s website between now and April 3—dollar for dollar, up to $250 per donation, and up to $3,000 total. Here’s a closer look at one of fabulous projects getting underway now.

“Food is universal; it’s what everybody shares in common,” says Jacob Schoenknecht, Director of Small Batch Detroit, a program of the Detroit Food Academy, and leader of the ioby campaign Mixing Up Detroit Youth Entrepreneurship. “But our program isn’t just for foodies, or about making people into chefs: it’s about leadership and entrepreneurship. Food is just the medium.”

 

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Detroit Food Academy (DFA) works with local educators, chefs, and business owners to give young Detroiters (ages 13-24) self-directed, entrepreneurial, real world experiences rooted in food—from creating healthy meals for their families to facilitating complex conversations about food systems with their community. The Small Batch Detroit program grew out of the earliest of DFA’s student-initiated products: the lip-smacking snack known as Mitten Bites (an homage to Michigan’s mitten-like shape). The cookie-turned-granola-bar, made with locally grown ingredients, “quickly became synonymous with DFA,” Jake says. “People would always see our students out offering samples and selling them.”

In the past few years, Jake has overseen the expansion of Small Batch from a summer program into a  business staffed by DFA students and alumni that paid out $30,000 in wages last year, and is on track for $50,000 in 2017. They’re at Eastern Market every Saturday, year-round, and on Tuesdays in the summertime, spreading the Mitten Bites love to thousands of Detroit-area shoppers. Jake says their presence there leads to more than just sales and increased brand awareness: “Eastern Market’s helped us out a ton. A lot of our students have been hired by other vendors there who’ve seen them at work.”

 

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Small Batch participants do indeed work for their success—on multiple levels. In addition to being trained to make Mitten Bites in the kitchen and sell them to the public, students can advance within the program and take classes about financial literacy, become team managers, learn advanced cooking techniques and production standards, and even take a shot at creating their own new products. “They’re really all ‘leaders,’ not just ‘students,’” Jake says. “On top of dealing with school and the everyday life challenges that a lot of young people in Detroit face, Small Batch participants also take on the commitment of coming here to learn, grow, and give back to DFA.”

 

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Mixing Up Detroit Youth Entrepreneurship is raising money for the purchase of a 60-quart commercial mixer that Jake hopes will allow Small Batch to quadruple its production output in the same amount of kitchen time. “We’ve already evolved our process quite a bit in the past few years,” he says. “When I first got here, we were mixing our ingredients in a 20-quart mixer and scooping them out by hand, which took forever and gave everyone carpal tunnel syndrome!” The program has since procured an automated sealing system for its packages, and will soon be getting a custom-made hydraulic flattener; the mixer is the last big piece of equipment they need to reach optimal production speed and uniformity.

Their crowdfunding experience has been great so far, Jake says. One reason? It’s easy for donors to see what they’re giving to. “A lot of times with nonprofit fundraising, when organizations just say ‘this is the work we do, please fund us,’ donors can feel unclear about where exactly their money will go,” Jake says. “But this is so practical.”

Jake thinks a similar practicality is at play in the success of Small Batch as a whole. “Whether you’re interested in business management, the culinary arts, becoming an entrepreneur of any kind… There are so many ways that each person’s own enjoyment can come out in this context. You don’t get too many people joining the basketball team who aren’t interested in playing basketball! But we get plenty of students here who don’t come in super interested in cooking, but who still leave the program with lots of useful knowledge and skills.”

 

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Jake is working to make Small Batch totally sustainable, meaning that sales of Mitten Bites will both pay the program’s expenses and generate additional proceeds for DFA. He also wants it, eventually, to be run exclusively by alumni. “I want to get this down to a science so that it can be run by just a few people, and then we could start another product and expand again.”

Ideally, Jake sees Small Batch becoming a consistent source of job training, employment, and networking for young Detroiters, as well as the “counseling arm” of DFA that can help them identify and address their personal and professional goals more broadly.

To this end, Jake says the best way to help Small Batch is to purchase Mitten Bites: at Eastern Market, in area Whole Foods, and online—with more outlets in the works. “People anywhere will buy Girl Scout cookies because they get the connection,” he says. “I want people to know that they can buy this granola bar from Detroit and be doing something good for the city and for these kids, while treating themselves to a good snack.”

Learn more about Mixing Up Detroit Youth Entrepreneurship on their campaign page, and check out all the Eastern Market Growing Communities Matching Grant Challenge winners! If you see something that moves you, remember your supporting dollars will go twice as far until April 3.

 

Building healthier communities webinar now available!


Earlier this month, ioby presented our second session in our new series of “Lunch and Learn” webinars. This conversation was all about how to bring  healthy living to your block. We heard stories from successful ioby projects that focused on community health, and got to see models and approaches for making our neighborhood healthier. We discussed everything from the health benefits of yoga, to how to grow a local project to do the most good for the long term, to how to talk about this work in the most engaging way.  

 

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We are grateful to have presenters with amazing experiences and knowledge to share:

  • Michael Marino, ioby project leader of Let’s Get Moving! Bringing Free Yoga to the Park in New York’s Lower East Side
  • Donovan Finn, ioby project leader of Jackson Heights’ 78th Street Play Street
  • Joanne Lee, Collaborative Learning Director at Active Living By Design
  • Raquel Bournhonesque, Community Coach at County Health Rankings & Roadmaps (a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute).

If you weren’t able to join us in real time, we are sharing the recording here so you can watch and listen to the whole thing when you are able – and share it with friends and neighbors!

Stay tuned for details about our next learning webinar about play, taking place on Monday, April 24th.

What could federal funding cuts mean for our neighborhoods?


At ioby, our work centers on connecting people who have good ideas for their neighborhoods with resources to make positive change. Much of our work focuses deliberately in neighborhoods with a history of disinvestment, where resources have been scarce for decades.

Sadly, disinvestment in our communities is far from a thing of the past. Under our new administration, we can well expect major federal funding cuts and policy changes in areas that will directly affect our neighborhoods, urban and rural.

 

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[Rocking the Boat Rowing Team,  a program of the South Bronx-based Youth Development Program]

 

There’s a lot of uncertainty around what will be cut and when, and what these changes will mean for the people we work with, but we’re beginning to think about what our response should be as an organization with a mission to support local residents in making positive change. What will it mean for our work and the work of our partners if basic services are cut?

We know the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors can’t provide the same level of funding as federal support, but how can we shift our work to make sure we’re doing the best we can for residents who will feel these cuts most severely? And how can we structure this work to continue to build communities up, rather than just responding to dire emergencies?

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[Students Under the Stars program for immigrant students in NYC public schools]

 

We don’t yet know what to expect, but these are a few of the areas we’re keeping an eye on in order to further develop a programmatic response, and if needed, shift our operations based on the needs of our neighborhoods:

  • The possible elimination of the Environmental Protection Agency: In addition to exacerbating environmental injustices in poor communities, gutting the EPA would mean cutting important funding streams for community-based environmental orgs like the Environmental Justice Small Grants Program and Citizen Science Grants.
  • The withholding of federal funding for sanctuary cities: Likely outcomes could include the elimination of funding for new, risky, and participatory programming as decision-makers shift their limited resources and attention to basic infrastructure and services. In cities that concede and allow local law enforcement to cooperate with federal immigration directives, a dangerous condition will be created for many of the people with whom ioby works closely. [Washington Post article on federal funding to sanctuary cities]
  • The repeal  of the Affordable Care Act, restructuring Medicaid and SNAP benefits, and ending tax incentives that support affordable housing: All of these planned cuts would place a major and disproportionate burden on already disinvested communities, cutting access to basic services and forcing the social sector to operate defensively with a diminished pool of resources.

 

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[Pollos del Pueblo, a program of the Cypress Hills CDC in New York]

 

We want to hear from you, our community: What possible federal funding cuts, restructures, and policy changes would have the biggest impact on your community and your work? And how can we respond in a way that provides support where it is most needed?

Please email erin@ioby.org   or leave us a comment.

 

Detroit Mushroom Factory brings wild nutrition home for locals


This spring, ioby and Eastern Market are partnering to present the Eastern Market Growing Communities Matching Grant Challenge. We’re offering 17 awesome local food entrepreneurs the chance to double the donations made to their projects on ioby’s website between now and April 3—dollar for dollar, up to $250 per donation, and up to $3,000 total. Here’s a closer look at one of fabulous projects getting underway now.

“I think Americans got their ‘myco-phobia’ from the British,” says Chris Carrier, half of the team behind the Detroit Mushroom Factory, about Westerners’ fear of mushrooms. “We don’t have the same history of foraging for mushrooms that people from Eastern Europe or Japan do, and mushrooms certainly aren’t as prominent in our cooking.”

“Sometimes people walk into our 100-year-old house, where mushroom production is going on in every room, and they get a little weirded out!” says Deana Wojcik, Chris’s partner.

 

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Indeed, fantastical-looking fungi can appear more like something out of Dr. Seuss than an item you’d want on your dinner plate. But it’s Deana and Chris’s mission to dispel the weirdness around mushrooms and spread the word about the good nutrition, flexible farming options, and rich culinary possibilities they offer. The Detroit Mushroom Factory, their urban farm, grows several types of edible and medicinal mushrooms, year-round, on recycled materials produced locally—like sawdust from a furniture maker and grain from a brewery. Then they sell them at Eastern Market on Saturdays and to local shops and eateries.

 

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They got the idea to build a mushroom business after taking a social entrepreneurship class a few years ago at Detroit’s Build Institute. Chris’s career background is in software engineering, and Deana’s is in education. Together, they wanted to start something that could make money, do good, and draw from their past experience. Initially they landed on the idea of teaching code to young people, but soon realized that not only was that too similar to their previous day jobs, “it’s also more fun to work on something that many people are unfamiliar with,” Deana says. “A lot of us approach STEM with baggage: we already think of ourselves as math and science people—or not. But mushrooms are new and fascinating! It’s easier for people to say, ‘I know nothing about this. Teach me!’ As an educator, I love that openness.”

 

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Currently, Deana and Chris produce mostly fan-shaped oyster mushrooms (which Chris describes as “most people’s introduction to the gourmet mushroom world—which is really everything beyond the white buttons in the salad bar!”); a spiky puffball one called lion’s mane; and a stick-shaped one called reishi which they package for use as coffee stirrers. While many of their customers (particularly people without access to quality health care) key in on mushrooms’ purported medicinal benefits, Chris and Deana are careful not to over-promise.

“We’re not doctors or scientists,” Chris says. “We can attest that mushrooms are high in protein, low in fat, and sometimes contain other nutritional value like B vitamins. And they taste good! But we just talk about them as something that’s healthy to eat, not as a cure for anything.”

After about three years in business, Deana and Chris are experiencing every entrepreneur’s ideal problem: customers’ demand is exceeding their supply, both in terms of volume and variety. To keep up with all the locally-grown mushrooms Rose’s Fine Food wants for their broth bowls, Sister Pie wants for their savory scones, and The Farmer’s Hand wants to stock on their shelves, Detroit Mushroom Factory will be expanding into a formerly obsolete warehouse near Chris and Deana’s home in Detroit’s North End. The pair is also raising money to buy more robust equipment like a high-pressure misting kit and a commercial refrigerator. Together, these changes will mean a hefty increase in production capabilities, customer satisfaction, educational opportunities, and community building.

“We’ve moved around a lot as adults, and it can be hard to meet people,” Deana says. “The Factory has been a great way for us to find community here. The degree to which we’ve been been embraced, as business owners and as people, has been exciting and surprising. But Detroit is a very creative and collaborative place. When we started introducing ourselves as mushroom farmers, that’s when the good conversations really started.”

 

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She and Chris are talking with administrators at the elementary school near their new space about offering field trips and hands-on mushroom workshops to students, and they want to expand into other green markets across the city. They’ve gotten interest from beyond Detroit’s borders—like fine dining restaurants in Ann Arbor. “But before we start reaching out, we want to make sure that every Detroit restaurant and resident who wants Detroit-grown mushrooms is getting them,” Deana says.

“We’re in the right place to do this,” she continues. “I don’t think we would have had the same success somewhere else, and we want to give back by being a source of education, training, and eventually jobs. For now, we hope that providing fresh, healthy, affordable produce to our neighbors is a good way to say thank you.”

Learn more about Detroit Mushroom Factory on their campaign page, and check out all the Eastern Market Growing Communities Matching Grant Challenge winners. If you see something that moves you, remember your supporting dollars go twice as far until April 3!

Lush Yummies Pie Company: Detroit entrepreneurship at its sweetest


This spring, ioby and Eastern Market are partnering to present the Eastern Market Growing Communities Matching Grant Challenge. We’re offering 17 awesome local food entrepreneurs the chance to double the donations made to their projects on ioby’s website between now and April 3—dollar for dollar, up to $250 per donation, and up to $3,000 total. Here’s a closer look at one of fabulous projects getting underway now.

Lush Yummies Pie Company makes delicious “lemon butta” pies using founder Jennifer Lyle’s grandfather’s recipe, fresh ingredients, and lots of love. But she thinks there’s another reason Detroiters go gaga for the velvety citrus treats: they’re reminders of home.

 

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“A lot of people who live in Michigan aren’t from here,” she explains. “In particular, a lot of African Americans, like my granddad, moved to Detroit from Alabama to work for Chrysler when the automotive industry was booming. People like him have southern roots, and you can’t get all the same food here; people miss it. These kinds of creamy lemon pies are native to the south—up north, they’re more like Jell-o. No thanks!”

After spending a couple of post-college years in Atlanta with Teach for America, Jennifer decided to follow her first passion—food—and enrolled at the Pâtisserie and Baking Certificate program at Le Cordon Bleu in Miami. She returned to Detroit about five years ago and experimented with making and marketing a number of dessert types, from wedding cakes to granola candy bars. “After all that, I came back to my granddad’s recipe that he made with his mother in the 1940s on their farm in Birmingham. I came back to the basics.”

 

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Jennifer currently has two employees (not including her husband, who handles the majority of Lush Yummies deliveries—in addition to holding a full-time job). Her long-term goal is to grow her accounts so she can hire more kitchen staff (Detroit locals preferred) and eventually take herself out of the production process. “Oddly, I think getting out of the kitchen is what most food entrepreneurs want to do!” she says. “Being there 24-7 just wears you out. I want to focus on building my brand, and eventually securing my own production facility.”

Lush Yummies is currently stocked in 15 stores, and will be adding Whole Foods to their roster starting in May. Jennifer would love to expand further, into outlets like Kroger and Wal-Mart nationwide. In the meantime, she’s set her crowdfunding sights on one important upgrade: a commercial-grade citrus squeezer that will save her and her staff the many hours a week they currently spend squeezing hundreds of lemons by hand!

 

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While her company is poised to go far, Jennifer recognizes that there’s no place like home. “Eastern Market is wonderful,” she says. “They really treat you like family. I support them and they support me.” Jennifer participates in the organization’s vendor gatherings, and has enjoyed visiting the market herself when she’s not working. “There are always families here,” she says. “I’ve pulled my kids down here in their wagon. They have music going, high school bands, you can smell the barbecue from down the block… It’s like New Orleans!”

She also appreciates Eastern Market shoppers. “The market is really diverse, and has put me in front of a lot of customers who wouldn’t otherwise see me,” Jennifer says. “The people who shop there want to support Detroit: they like meeting the farmers, they really interact with their produce. It’s ideal.”

Jennifer grew up in a family of entrepreneurs, and spent time working in their businesses. Her powerhouse grandmother, for example, was the first female president of Michigan’s Booker T. Washington Business Association, an African American Chamber of Commerce, as well as the first woman to run the state’s Liquor Control Commission—and she founded her own network of Detroit-area adult education facilities. “Honestly, it was sometimes difficult working with her,” Jennifer says. “The dynamics of a family business can be intense, and her expectations were very high. When something is yours, it’s different from when you’re a manager or director: your heart and soul is in it.”

Eventually, Jennifer had to explain to her grandmother that she had dreams and aspirations of her own, and didn’t want to take over the family business. Now, her two small kids are growing up with a strong entrepreneurial caretaker, too. “When I’m able to have my own commercial kitchen, my own sustainable company with my own name on it, when I’m able to hire all the Detroiters I need: that will give me ultimate pride in my business. I want my kids to say, ‘This is my mom’s company.’ I want them to know this is something their mom did.”

 

***

Learn more about Lush Yummies Pie Company on their campaign page, and check out all the Eastern Market Growing Communities Matching Grant Challenge winners! If you see something that moves you, remember your supporting dollars will go twice as far until April 3.

Farm to Freezer: Celebrating Michigan’s growing diversity in every season

This spring, ioby and Eastern Market are partnering to present the Eastern Market Growing Communities Matching Grant Challenge. We’re offering 17 awesome local food entrepreneurs the chance to double all donations made to their projects on ioby’s website between now and April 3—dollar for dollar, up to $250 per donation, and up to $3,000 total. Here’s a closer look at one of the fabulous projects getting underway now.

 

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“There’s nothing new about freezing fruits and veggies,” says Brandon Seng, founder of Farm to Freezer, a program that flash-freezes produce at peak ripeness for schools, institutions, and retailers to offer throughout the year. “People have long been putting up food grown in season for consumption in the wintertime. It’s the way we’re doing it that’s unique.”

Farm to Freezer, founded in Traverse City, partners with farmers across Michigan to procure high-quality produce that’s prepped and frozen in small batches by people with barriers to employment: many are returning from prison, recovering from addiction, or transitioning from homelessness; some have been out of the workforce for years. Farm to Freezer gives them the opportunity to learn marketable job skills (both physical and social) and healthy cooking basics, while helping to make the most of a tremendous local resource.

“Michigan is the number-one blueberry producer in the nation,” says Brandon. “We grow 78 percent of the nation’s tart cherries! Plus a significant amount of apples, peaches, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower—the list goes on. We’re really kind of a national leader when it comes to what you find on your dinner plate and in your smoothies.”

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Of course, Michigan’s awesome produce is limited to a relatively short growing season: basically June through October. Farm to Freezer got its start about five years ago when Brandon was directing a school lunch program. He wanted to get more local produce on his menus, but while the farm season was on, school was out—hence the motivation to freeze.

“We do some really cool stuff with what I believe to be misunderstood veggies, like romanesco and kohlrabi,” Brandon says. “All of our produce bags are clear, so people can see the color and texture variation in what they’re eating. I’m most excited about our root vegetable medley—it’s just a beautiful kaleidoscope of colors.”

Farm to Freezer couples their produce offerings with extensive educational outreach to their consumers, so people know how best to prepare the food. Their packages also give simple instructions like, “Best roasted or grilled on high heat with the oil of your choice,” and they’ll soon be posting recipes online. “Eating whole foods simply is so easy and tastes great,” Brandon says. “That’s what I’m encouraging folks to do.”

His idea quickly attracted interest from from parents, colleagues, and other schools in the area, and he eventually partnered with Goodwill Industries to become a full-fledged workforce development program offering healthy produce throughout Northwest Michigan.

 

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Now, “we want to grow the food system and share Michigan produce more widely,” Brandon says. Motor City is next on the list.

“Opening a location in Detroit will help us connect the regional food economies in the Southeast part of the state,” he explains. Currently, Farm to Freezer’s Traverse City location serves an area with a population around 400,000; when they open in Detroit, they’ll be able to market to the roughly six million consumers in the city’s metro area. He looks forward to making relationships with new farmers as well as new buyers.

He also looks forward to relocating. “Because we’re taking an old model and renewing it, it’s really fun and fitting to be moving into an institution like Eastern Market that has such a vibrant heritage in the state,” Brandon says. The building Farm to Freezer will be occupying has been vacant for 10 years. “I don’t want to be quiet about it coming back to life,” he says. “I want folks to know that we want to connect with the region in a new and exciting way. To that end, we want to stand out with artwork that speaks to our initiative.”

 

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The $6,046 Farm to Freezer is raising on ioby will pay for the design and installation of a 20’ x 20’ banner that will hang outside their space on Mack Avenue. Brandon’s vision for it is a celebration of the beauty of agriculture.

“If you’re able to drive through any of these rural areas and see the cherry blossoms when they’re out, the fields of cauliflower in pretty rows with the sun on them… There’s such striking imagery here. I’m in love with it, and I want to share it in a powerful statement that speaks to who we are and what we’re about.”

As for the long-term future of Farm to Freezer, Brandon’s goals are clear. They’ll grow into their Eastern Market space, starting with five employees and increasing to 25 by their fifth year. “Michigan has a ton to offer the rest of the country by way of the food we produce,” he says. “We want to limit our sourcing to the state, but we hope to soon be utilizing the Detroit hub to serve sales channels into Toledo and Chicago, and hopefully Canada at some point.”

“I know we’re going to rock it,” he says. “We’re really fired up about it.”

Learn more about Farm to Freezer on their campaign page, and check out all the Eastern Market Growing Communities Matching Grant Challenge winners. If you see something that moves you, remember your supporting dollars go twice as far until April 3!

Eastern Market and ioby: Bigger is better in Detroit this spring!


Look out, Detroit! This spring, something big is about to get bigger.

ioby and Eastern Market are partnering to present the Eastern Market Growing Communities Matching Grant Challenge. We’re offering 17 awesome local food entrepreneurs the chance to double the donations made to their projects on ioby’s website between now and April 3—dollar for dollar, up to $250 per donation, up to $3,000 total. That’s big!

 

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But “big” is nothing new here. The venerable Eastern Market has been a big deal for the city of Detroit for well over 100 years. Each week, hundreds of vendors and thousands of shoppers congregate inside and outside its signature network of “sheds” to buy and sell fresh produce, flowers, baked goods, and more. As a nonprofit organization with a mission to enrich Detroit—nutritionally, culturally, and economically—Eastern Market Development Corporation (EMDC) also develops and supports a variety of local programs and development projects that help to build a healthier, wealthier, and happier Detroit.

With a history and mission this cool, we’re nothing short of ecstatic to be taking part in this matching grant challenge.

 

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Joe Rashid, ioby’s Detroit Action Strategist, says Eastern Market is an ideal partner because they have deep roots in the community and can help ioby Leaders make the kinds of important connections that can help them grow their businesses long-term. While supporting the local economy and food system are the big focus, Joe says the growth spurred by these projects stands to reach beyond Eastern Market’s purview—to neighborhood-based urban farms and businesses around the city, and in some cases, even to agricultural operations in rural parts of the state.

“Especially in Detroit, trying to grow the local economy outside of the central business district is really important. Doing that helps to support the entire city, not just the part where the ‘action’ is,” he says. “And in a time when many small businesses in Detroit are having difficulty securing funding, I really think the crowdfunding model—together with great matching grants like these—can play an integral role in getting new businesses off the ground and shaping Detroit’s future.”

 

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The Eastern Market Growing Communities Matching Grant Challenge adds another layer of support to the services EMDC has been providing to its vendors for years. We’re excited to be helping to make this big deal even bigger.

“Supporting local businesses one-on-one is really meaningful,” Joe says. “And it’s another expression of the ioby model of working on the project level to create a much larger impact.”

Read more about the Eastern Market Growing Communities Matching Grant Challenge—including the amazing additional in-kind donations being offered to project Leaders by Skidmore Studio! If you’re curious about how these projects were chosen, check out the eligibility page.

p.s. ioby is organizing a Detroit Convening on April 29, location TBA. Stay tuned for more details!

NEW VIDEO: Dilla Youth Day inspires Detroit youth through Hip Hop


Dilla Youth Day is an annual event celebrating and sharing the legacy of one Detroit’s most prolific music producers, J Dilla. Piper Carter of the Foundation of Women in Hip Hop, founder and organizer of the event for six years running, talks about using hip hop to educate, inspire, and nurture youth to be passionate creators in music, technology, the arts, science and more. This year Carter raised funds on ioby to launch thestudioArena Mobile Maker Space, which combines the “genius traditions of hip hop’s powerful visual, musical, and performing art forms together with the genius hackers and makers with a vision inspired by the strong spirit of invention in Detroit.”

More videos on our Vimeo page