Inside of a sweltering hoop house, Shaina Shetty smiles as she waters a cluster of newly budded sunflowers.
“I like being seen not just as a student, but as a member of the community,” she says of her summer internship at Growing Hope, an Ypsilanti, Michigan nonprofit that works to improve community members’ access to healthy food through education and growing their own produce.
Shetty, an incoming LSA sophomore, was matched to her internship through the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP), which connects students to worthy projects pertaining to their academic and career interests.
At Growing Hope, she helps make sense of the data gathered from one of their flagship projects: the raised-bed program. Throughout the last four years, Growing Hope has outfitted low-income households in the region with raised-bed garden plots. Each family receives a small garden, complete with compost and seeds for a variety of fruits and vegetables. Family members attend an orientation session to learn how to care for their gardens, as well as tips on ways to cook healthy foods. They then keep a report of how much they consume or sell per month using tracking sheets provided by Growing Hope.
Although Shetty has only just begun to comb through the copious data gathered over the life of the study, she can already draw some basic conclusions.
“The gardens have had a huge impact on the families,” she says.
In fact, some families reported harvesting upwards of $100 in fresh fruits and vegetables over the course of one summer. This means that not only are the families saving money, but they are also eating more healthfully. Eventually, Shetty’s findings will help Growing Hope focus their resources toward projects that have the most positive impact on the community.
In addition to analyzing the garden project data, Shetty also tends to the crops being grown on the land behind the organization’s headquarters, and sometimes even helps sell them at the Ypsilanti Farmers’ Market. She says Growing Hope’s visitors represent a wide swath of the region; people of varying ages, races, and education levels convene there for advice about nutrition, gardening, and other projects.
“You run into people who have never tried a beet before, and those who absolutely love them,” she says.
Shetty’s work at Growing Hope has convinced her of the importance of preventative healthcare and community health programs. She believes that medicine has an unfortunate history of neglecting initiatives to encourage healthy life habits. Focusing on increasing access to healthy foods and information about nutrition, for example, could lead to a decrease in many preventable diseases. That’s why, she says, programs like those at Growing Hope are both revolutionary and necessary for a population that is simultaneously overfed and yet often undernourished.
Moving forward, Shetty wants to study medicine and public health jointly—a natural combination in her mind. She will work to apply the lessons she’s learned through Growing Hope—how sustainable, healthy food sources affect communities—to preventative medicine.