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Partner Spotlight: Glow and Grow Urban Collective

Guest blog by Kristen Weeks (Glow and Grow Urban Collective) and David Fiorini (SSJNN Marketing Intern/Mercyhurst student)

It was at a local food summit organized by Erie’s Food Policy Advisory Council at Edinboro University where the Sisters of Saint Joseph Neighborhood Network (SSJNN) began our collaboration with Glow and Grow Urban Collective. Acquiring land in Erie for food cultivation was no easy task for Kristen Weeks. Luckily, SSJNN had a plot available located on 23rd and Parade. After that, the collaboration between Glow and Grow Urban Collective and SSJNN hit the ground running and hasn’t looked back.

Back in 2019, Kristen Weeks worked as a manager at the Erie Food Co-op and made it her mission to promote fresh, locally grown food. It very quickly became apparent to her that she was relying on rural farms instead of local farms much closer in proximity. The concern began to kick in for Kristen. She believed that fresh food ought to follow a sustainable path but sadly that wasn’t the case when the majority of the fresh food sources were located about 40 minutes outside of Erie. It was after seeing the lack of local produce that Kristen made it her personal commitment to contribute in any way she can to provide her community with “hyper-local produce”.

Founder Kristen Weeks

Now, Glow and Grow can be found hosting or participating in outreach and youth programs for the community. One volunteer program Kristen is honored to be a part of is the Pay What You Can Market. This Market, ran by Stephanie Ciner and Stephanie Thauer, doesn’t only help ensure consistent supply of fresh food to the east-side community, but also provides engagement between stakeholders and farmers on all scales. In 2023, Kristen hosted five Pay What You Can Markets at the farm located on 23rd and parade as well. In 2024, Kristen plans on hosting a Pay What You Can Market every single week held at the same location. Kristen also participated as a grower for the Pay What You Can Market organized by ECAT in the summer of 2023. Throughout the summer, Kristen was a teaching artist at Dafmark Creative Arts Center. Every second Saturday of each month Kristen was able to provide knowledge about medicinal and culinary herbs to students. To further her teaching endeavors, Kristen taught urban foraging at Collegiate Academy and also held a class on making foraged jelly at Strong Vincent through the garden program led by Stephanie Ciner.

Beautiful produce from the plot

Another program Glow and Grow has participated with is the new SSJNN/Paramount Pursuits small business program funded by ECGRA. Kristen claims the program “has proven immensely beneficial” for her. “My mentor, Julie, has been exceptionally knowledgeable and supportive of my recently established business. She has provided me with numerous relevant insights to help me grow and manage my business seamlessly,” says Kristen. Kristen and Julie have worked hard together through this program and have recognized that the commitment is being engaged with the community with their boots on the ground.

When talking about Erie, Kristen believes that urban agriculture is crucial. “It enhances local food security by bringing fresh produce closer to urban populations, reducing reliance on distant sources,” says Kristen. Kristen also believes that urban agriculture promotes sustainability by reducing the transportation carbon emissions and help lower environmental impact that can be associated with large scale agriculture. Another positive impact Kristen sees with urban agriculture is the green spaces within the city that are created. These help improve air quality and help foster a healthier environment. This can also help with the local economy creating more jobs and entrepreneurship in the community. Lastly, Kristen believes that growing food locally helps encourage a connection within a community. “Cultivating food locally encourages a connection between residents and their food sources, promoting awareness of sustainable practices and healthy eating habits. Overall, urban farming plays a vital role in building more sustainable, resilient, food sovereignty, and vibrant urban communities,” says Kristen.

Progress at the plot

Coming into 2024, Kristen is looking forward to creating a stronger sense of community threw new food pathways. Kristen mentions that there are exciting new projects in the works that she cannot wait to see come alive. “Creating and supporting new food initiatives is not only a way to connect people but also a means of contributing to sustainable and local food systems,” says Kristen. She is excited and looking forward to these shared experiences and seeing the impact they will have on the community.

Where can the community find Glow and Grow Urban Collective and their products? In the springtime, they can be found at the farm that is located at 23rd and Parade. Also, at the SSJNN Little Italy’s Farmer’s Market every Monday from late June through September. Glow and Grow Urban Collective does accept FMNP vouchers and will be advertising their hours of operation once the growing season gets underway.

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