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New City Neighbors links good food and youth empowerment

This dispatch was added by one of our Nonprofit Neighbors. It does not represent the editorial voice of The Rapidian or Community Media Center.

Recognizing that good food is often connected to good living, New City Neighbors integrates a community farm and café into their work with youth.

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This year's Walk for Good Food brought together 750 participants and raised over $43,000 for a number of recipient organizations, all working to promote systems of food that are fair, healthy, sustainable, and affordable.

At just $6,000 short of our $110,000 goal, we're so close!  Help us reach our goal by donating to the Walk for Good Food before June 30th, using the link here.  Thank you in advance.

/Ian Gibson

Alaina Dobkowski, Executive Director of New City Neighbors

Alaina Dobkowski, Executive Director of New City Neighbors /Ian Gibson

/Ian Gibson

Life-giving food systems have far broader effects than the dinner plate.  For New City Neighbors, recognition of this has led to the integration of good food and non-profit work in order to address a need in their neighborhood: youth empowerment.

New City Neighbors, a faith-based community development organization that has been working in Grand Rapids for eleven years, views their neighborhood through an asset-based lens.  Alaina Dobkowski, Executive Director of New City Neighbors, describes the “circle of empowerment” through which the non-profit functions: they provide opportunities for youth so that they may in turn serve as an asset to New City and the surrounding community, allowing for further growth and youth empowerment.  “Ideally,” Dobkowski remarks, “We’re listening to the community and then responding to that with the work that we’re doing.” The non-profit prioritizes its neighborhood and uses the assets already present in there to address issues as they arise.

Recognizing that the needs of youth differ in changing stages of life, New City Neighbors provides three separate youth programs.  For children in elementary school, after school programming and summer day camps focus on academics, spiritual growth, and health and wellness.  Middle schoolers are able to participate in New City’s seven week summer bakery program, which is adapted to parallel the farm growing season. Baked goods, often made with freshly picked fruits and veggies, are sold in the café.  For high school aged youth, New City provides employment opportunities, either for the summer or full year. Students may work with younger children, in the café, or on the farm. Each youth program is integrated with the New City Farm, utilizing the practice of sustainable growing and food preparation to teach important leadership skills.

The New City Farm is representative of the asset-based lens through which the non-profit operates.  Utilizing a plot of land adjacent to Fourth Reformed Church, the farm operates under a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model.  Shareholders are invited to buy a portion of the harvest, which supports youth employment on the farm. Twenty-five to thirty families also utilize the garden space to grow their own food, allowing the farm to serve as a point of connection with neighbors.

The café, opened in June 2017, sells wood-fired pizzas, soups and salads made with produce fresh from the farm, and baked goods from the middle school program.  Beginning on June 28 and running through the end of September, it opens every Thursday from noon through 6:30 pm at New City Neighbors/Fourth Reformed Church on Union Ave.

Dobkowski described the café serving as a place of gathering for the neighborhood: “We saw people from this church, our shareholders….our students’ families, neighbors—everybody coming to buy good food and hang out on this patio together.”  While it exceeded expectations in its first summer, Dobkowski expressed dreams for the café’s continued growth. Partnership with the Walk for Good Food may aid in those dreams, as New City Neighbors continues to build capacity for the farm and the café.

The mission of New City Neighbors—empowering youth to reach their full potential—is intimately intertwined with its chief asset: three acres of land cultivated into a flourishing community farm.  Recognizing that good food is often connected to good living, New City works so that its neighbors may flourish much in the same way its fruits and veggies do.


by Molly Vander Werp, intern at Access of West Michigan


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