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Michigan Urban Farming Initiative Co-Founder Named 2013 'Difference Maker'

UM-Dearborn recently honored 50 students who are making a difference as leaders in their communities across Michigan.

The University of Michigan-Dearborn recently recognized 50 students as “Difference Makers” for 2013.

The distinction honors students for their academic achievement, integrity, leadership, and creative contributions—in and out of the classroom.

“To have been chosen for this award identifies a student as one of the most significant contributors to our University of Michigan-Dearborn community,” said Stanley Henderson, UM-Dearborn vice chancellor for enrollment management and student life.

Among this year's award recepients is Tyson Gersh, co-founder of the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (MUFI). The nonprofit works in poor neighborhoods throughout Southeast Michigan to engage residents in sustainable agriculture projects.

MUFI is currently working to restore a three story, six-unit apartment complex on Brush Street in downtown Detroit into a community resource center.

The idea began when Gersh worked in Detroit as a research assistant to the Urban Community Oral Health Project. After interviewing more than 200 women who relied on the services of the state's Women, Infants, and Children program, he started to see the relationship between socioeconomic status and food security.

“It became clear to me that food security was a necessary requisite in enabling upward social mobility,” he said. “People need to have physical and economic access to quality food and the education to recognize its value as a staple in their diet.”

Gersh knew that food security and the vast amount of vacant land in Detroit posed significant challenges to the rejuvenation of the city. But he also saw those challenges as an opportunity for change.

“By reframing agriculture as a platform to promote education, sustainability and community, while simultaneously reducing socioeconomic disparity, we can work to empower urban communities,” he said.

In December 2011, MUFI purchased the apartment complex and its surrounding land, and in 2012, more than 800 volunteers transformed the property into a pumpkin and squash patch, raised garden beds of tomatoes, peppers and sunflower seeds, and the beginning remediation of contaminated soil.

MUFI is now a registered 501c(3) non-profit organization, partnering with the community and volunteers and beginning to remodel the standing building.

“Tyson is a truly exceptional student who has taken his passion for bettering his community to the heights of civic engagement and involvement,” said Jonathan Larson, coordinator of LGBTQ and inclusion initiatives at the university.

To view all of the 2013 Difference Maker profiles, visit http://www.michigandifferencemakers.com/.

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