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This farmer helps tackle food insecurity in Detroit

As a farmer at Keep Growing Detroit, an urban farm located downtown, Akello Karamoko helps residents tackle food insecurity

Photo by Lauren Jeziorski

It might seem like an odd place to grow things like dino kale and cabbage, but on their 1.75-acre farming facility near I-75 and Grand River Avenue, the team at Keep Growing Detroit is getting it done right.

Akello Karamoko is a farmer at Keep Growing Detroit, where he’s mainly in charge of growing plant transplants. He began working there after completing the farm’s youth apprenticeship program and was eventually brought on staff after completing Michigan State University’s Organic Farmer Training Program.

“Growing up we had a garden, but I didn’t really take it seriously until I was about 19,” Karamoko says.

Now he’s 22, and he says he’s learning that working in the food industry is more dynamic than he ever thought.

As part of his duties at Keep Growing Detroit, he interacts with various volunteer groups that come through the farm, including schools, corporate groups and summer programs from in and around the city.

“The volunteer groups that come in are one of the greatest things that happen here,” Karamoko says. “We get a new flow of people and personalities every day, and we get to show them how to garden.”

Keep Growing Detroit’s Garden Resource Program supports about 1,400 urban gardens and farms in Detroit, Highland Park and Hamtramck. Through it, the farm supplies residents with resources like seeds, transplants and compost.

The member farms and gardens are given the opportunity to sell their crop at Eastern Market alongside the crop coming directly from Keep Growing Detroit, which is also sold to local chefs and restaurants and donated to food pantries.

“We encourage (gardeners) to scale up to be able to produce enough food to sell at the market,” Karamoko says. “With that they get that experience of selling their own food, and they also get 100 percent of the money.”

Though the gardening season is coming to a close, Karamoko says it’s never too late to get involved.

“We have different programs that we put on each year,” he says. “We do educational classes throughout the year and we have farm training for people who want to learn how to garden on a market level.”

When he’s not farming, Karamoko is a passionate part of the Good Food Ambassadors program, where he a group of young people head to grocery stores in the Detroit area to talk to residents about different resources available to them, including the Double Up Food Bucks program, and other ways to support the local economy through food.

“I do that on the weekend while I’m (farming) during the week and sometimes on the weekends too,” Karamoko says. “It becomes a really full schedule for me, but it’s been rewarding.

“We’re dynamic food professionals,” he adds. “We’re doing a lot with food, we’re doing a lot with the community, and it’s all about getting people to grow their own food and support themselves.”

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