Daily Point of Light Award Presented to Community Leader Growing Healthy Food and Feeding Thousands
Tyson Gersh Receives Daily Point of Light Award
HOUSTON, Oct. 21, 2015 - Today at the Conference on Volunteering and Service in Houston, the Daily Point of Light Award is presented to Tyson Gersh, who is bringing a community together to grow fresh food amid urban blight. The Daily Point of Light Award, created by President George H. W. Bush in 1989, celebrates the power of individuals to spark change and improve the world.
Tracy Hoover, CEO of Points of Light shared why this coveted award is being presented today, “Tyson Gersh exemplifies the shifting – and expansive – nature of volunteer service today. By using social media, his background in social psychology and a desire to make life better for others, he is drawing from his skills and passions to recruit volunteers and transform a community.
Tyson Gersh created the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative, a nonprofit he cofounded in 2011 to address the lack of access to fresh food in some urban neighborhoods.
Since acquiring empty buildings and vacant lots in Detroit’s North End at an auction, approximately 30 properties altogether, Gersh has counted on an ever-growing troop of 8,000 volunteers to turn ruins into a thriving farm that distributes the fruits of its labor for free.
“Everything we do has come from leveraging social media,” Gersh says. “People are eager to help. They ask me what I need, and I say, ‘You’ll have to come to find out.’ It could be tearing down a building, it could be weeding a garden.”
Once the volunteers come, whether from down the block or from the suburbs, Gersh takes photos of them at work, then posts the images on social media. “There they are looking super dirty and their friends see it and want to get in on the fun,” says Gersh, 26. “The networking has just gotten easier with time.”
Gersh got the idea for the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative a few years ago, as part of his studies in social psychology at the University of Michigan, when he worked as a research assistant for the Urban Community Oral Health Project. His interviews helped him understand the relationship between socioeconomic status and physical and economic access to a variety of healthy foods.
The relatively simple idea of developing a community garden that would provide good food for all has morphed into a project that aims to “drive innovative green and blue [water-focused] infrastructure by a new model of blight deconstruction,” Gersh says. For instance, one crumbling structure is being torn down, leaving only its basement, which will be converted into a retention pond to provide water for the farm.
“In Detroit, there are 80,000 blighted properties; the city’s response is to tear them down, which leaves behind vacant land, a feeling of disinvestment and danger,” Gersh says. “We want to
figure out ways to repurpose these existing buildings relatively cheaply. Since two-thirds of the
cost of demolition goes toward removing the basement and foundation, if we can use that piece, we are immediately adding value.”
Still, food production remains the nonprofit’s core. Last year, the nonprofit grew 15,000 pounds of organic produce, some 230 varieties of crops – including 30 kinds of tomatoes and 25 kinds of carrots.
“The neighbors get really excited about having access to fresh food,” Gersh says. “Since most of them also serve as volunteers on the farm, they are literally reaping the rewards of what they sow. The experience of taking ownership and changing the world around you is really empowering.”
For more information about U.S. Daily Point of Light Award – or to nominate someone you know – please visit www.pointsoflight.org/dailypointoflight.
About Points of Light
Points of Light – the world’s largest organization dedicated to volunteer service – mobilizes millions of people to take action that is changing the world. Affiliated with 250 cities and partnered with thousands of nonprofits and corporations, we are so grateful for our top sponsors of this year’s Conference: The UPS Foundation, JPMorgan Chase, Citi Foundation, Deloitte, Target, Disney and United Airlines. Points of Light engages more than 4 million volunteers in 30 million hours of service each year – we put people at the center of change. For more information, go to www.pointsoflight.org.