Urban Roots was originally formed in 2013 as an LLC by Levi Gardner to begin understanding and exploring the potential of urban agriculture to be a transformational tool in Grand Rapids. During those first two years, he visited numerous urban farms, social enterprise organizations, and other holistic centers for social, ecological, and community empowerment throughout the country. From visiting an urban farm on the South side of Chicago, to listening to Father Greg Boyle's discuss kinship, to spending one month learning about Permaculture in Nicaragua, he became convinced that the dominant models of singularly-focused non-profits could be molded into something more durable and resilient in an urban context.
In 2015, following two years of urban farming and teaching throughout the city of Grand Rapids, Levi and his team were privileged to move into the Madison neighborhood to begin our work there. With this move to one of the most disinvested and yet historically culturally rich areas of Grand Rapids, we began the true process of learning from our neighborhood and our city to develop this work in resilient ways. Additionally during this time, we established a board, crafted our guiding principles, and officially received our 501(c)3 status. Despite this, we have been consistently committed to the idea of building a regenerative organizational model that fostered empowerment over charity, stewardship over dominance, and community over privatization. Though sometimes challenging, we have remained committed to the idea that cultivation - stewarding that which already exists - is far more powerful than construction - imposing a set of ideas onto an already functioning system. Our greatest teacher continues to be the forest, wherein highly diverse species not only cohabitant amongst one another, but actually thrive because of the differences between them all.
Through that constant listening and reflecting, we have been on the journey to establish our organization as one dedicated not only to urban agriculture for the sake of growing food, but also to engage in the fundamental act of what it means to be a human being. Today, we are convinced that urban agriculture has the capacity to cultivate resiliency in both social and ecological spheres. By building honest and rich collaborations throughout our neighborhoods and our city, we believe that urban agriculture can simultaneously be a platform for healthy food access, experiential pedagogy, economic development, ecological stewardship, community revitalization, and social empowerment.