The Reality of Doing Business in Ypsilanti: a roundtable discussion with a half dozen of Ypsi’s most well known entrepreneurs

This Thursday evening, from 5:00 to 7:00, I’ll be on stage at Woodruff’s, facilitating a conversation between Bee Mayhew Roll (Beezy’s), Eli Morrissey (The Rocket), Darryl Daniels (Jacobsen Daniels Associates), and Wonder Woman (Bona Sera Cafe) about the challenges that entrepreneurs face in downtown Ypsilanti, and the opportunities, as they see them, that currently exist. (Jesse Kranyak, the owner of the Wurst Bar, will likely be joining us as well, but there’s a chance that he might not be able to pull himself away from the critical task of decommissioning his restaurant’s beloved trough urinal.) The event, which is part of the Concentrate Media speaker series, is free and open to the public. Registration, however, is required. (See link below.)

This the second time in as many months that I’ve hosted one of these events for Concentrate, and, if it’s anywhere near as interesting as the last one, I think you’ll find it well worth your time… and not just because they folks from Concentrate are known to buy the occasional beer for audience members.

[Register Now]

Posted in entrepreneurism, Local Business, Locally Owned Business, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Wanted: Billy Bragg in Ypsilanti on May Day…. spread the word

As I mentioned yesterday, Billy Bragg is going to be in Ann Arbor tomorrow for a show at The Ark, and we’d love to steal him away for an hour or so, before he takes the stage, to join us in Ypsi for our May Day festivities at the Water Street Commons. With that in mind, a wanted poster has been created. Please print out a few copies, and distribute them widely in Ann Arbor.

I know it’s a long shot, but what have we got too lose, right?

[Download the PDF]

Posted in Art and Culture, Special Projects, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Making seed bombs with the awesome kids of Ypsi Middle School, and plotting to bring Billy Bragg to our May Day celebration

I skipped breakfast this morning and headed over with Jeff Clark to make seed bombs with 7th and 8th graders at Ypsi Middle School. It was an incredible experience. The kids were enthusiastic, inquisitive, and just all-around awesome. And, thanks to their hard work, we now have over 500 seed bombs prepared for Wednesday’s big May Day event… I just wish that I could start every day discussing the environment, native plants, and community activism with energetic young people. It was seriously inspiring… And, it looks like some of them will be peddling their bikes over on Wednesday, so that they can join us as we collectively work to reintroduce native species on Water Street, and transform a desolate, weed-filled wasteland along Michigan Avenue into a thriving commons. Here are a few photos.

It’s worth noting, I think, that these kids very much wanted to come as a group to Water Street to walk the site, help remove invasive species, and see what we were planning firsthand. Unfortunately, however, due to budget cuts, and the district’s reliance on private buses, they couldn’t make it. (I’m told that they would have had to pay $300 to use a bus for the day.) So, we did the best that we could to make them a part of the process, given the parameters. Last week, we shot video of the site and sent it to their teacher, so that they could get a sense of what we were doing, and, today, Jeff and I went into their classroom to show them how to make seed bombs, while talking with them about everything from the history of May Day to colony collapse.

Given the feel good nature of this post, this probably isn’t the right place for me to launch into a tirade about the systematic defunding of public education in Michigan, but I really do think it’s criminal that these kids, and their incredible teacher, Tonia Porterfield, lack the ability to even make it across town to work on a project that would tie together so much of what they’re learning about in the classroom, from the real life application of math (in laying out the site), to the importance of species diversification. Assuming this initiative of ours takes off the way that we’re hoping, and the seed bombs made by these young folks this morning actually work, and successfully bring about positive change in our downtown, I’m thinking that we should have another fundraising campaign next year, so that we can rent buses and bring them to the site, so that they can see firsthand what they’ve helped to create… And, yes, I know that a lot of them will have other opportunities to get to the site on their own, but they won’t have the benefit of being able to hear from native plant experts, and professionals working in brownfield remediation, etc, the way they would if we set up something comprehensive for their entire class.

When one of the girls in the class thanked Jeff and me for coming out today, saying excitedly, “This makes it so much more real than a video,” it really brought home the fact that these kids are anxious for real, hands-on opportunities to learn and make a difference in the world. (As much as Michigan Republicans would like it to be the case, on-line education isn’t sufficient by itself.) And, even with a teacher as creative and resourceful as Ms. Porterfield, who took the initiative to call me after hearing about the seed bombing project, asking me to include them somehow, the opportunities for project based learning outside the traditional school setting are few and far between. And, since meeting with them this morning, I can’t stop thinking about ways to get them more engaged… So, if you do come out to help us slingshot and catapult seed bombs onto Water Street this Wednesday, and you happen to see a few middle school-aged kids standing around, thank them for helping make the bombs, and talk with them about the kinds of things they’d like to do in the community. Not only will it be good for them to know that adults actually give a damn, but I think you’ll get something out of it too, as they begin talking about the kinds of contributions they’d like to make, and the kinds of experiences they’d like to have. It’ll restore your faith in humanity. I promise.

Speaking of May Day, thanks to the efforts of the lovable young radicals of the Ypsi Free Skool, a number of other activities will be taking place in addition to the seed bombing. Here’s the schedule.

12:30 – 1:30 – Skill Share – MiniZine Workshop with David Chapman

1:30 – 2:00 – International Worker Solidarity March

3:00 – 4:00 – Skill Share – Radical Labor History with Phil Patterson

4:00 – 5:00 – Skill Share – Food Forests with Jesse Tack

5:00 – Seed Bombing

5:30 – Potluck and Bonfire

Further information can be found at

And, one last thing… It’s just come to my attention that, as luck would have it, the voice of the international worker, Billy Bragg, is scheduled to be in Ann Arbor on May Day for a show at the Ark. And I’m thinking that it would be really cool if we could get him out to Ypsi for a while, to join us in a song or two. I don’t know how realistic it is, as I’m sure his schedule is tight, but I’ve just reached out to a brilliant designer friend, asking him to drop everything and begin work on a “This Machine Plants Flowers… The People of Ypsilanti Would Love to Share a May Day Meal with You, Billy” poster. My thought is that, if we can get people to put them up all over Ann Arbor tomorrow, there’s a chance that he might see one, or someone might mention it to him. (It’ll also, of course, draw the attention of folks in Ann Arbor to our May Day activities. As I’m not aware of a May Day event taking place in Ann Arbor, I suspect there are some folks who would like to come out and join us on Water Street.) I’ll keep you posted… In the meantime, though, please do what you can though your networks to reach Billy Bragg. If you know someone at the Ark, pick up a phone and call them. Or perhaps send him an invitation through Facebook.

[note: Background on the seed bombing of Water Street can be found here.]

Posted in Agriculture, Education, Environment, Special Projects, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Rebel Kind at Totally Awesome Fest 9

There was a lot to like about this year’s Totally Awesome Fest. Among my favorite things was the set by Rebel Kind at dusk on Friday, on the banks of the Huron River. There was just something really beautiful about the way the swaying trees and the warm glow of the lamp worked in concert with the members of the band.

Here’s a little video of those band members – Autumn Wetli, Shelley Salant, Jules Nehring and Amber Fellows – making beautiful music in what appears to be a cozy, wall-less living room in the middle of a darkening forrest.

It struck me as a kind of K Records – David Lynch mash-up, and what could be better than that?

[The above drawing of Rebel Kind comes courtesy of Jim Cherewick.]

Posted in Art and Culture, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Lets’ have a Totally Awesome Feast next year

I don’t want to take on one more project, so this idea is free to anyone who wants it… Next year, there should be a Totally Awesome Feast in conjunction with Totally Awesome Fest. We should close a street and do it up right. Maybe cook a tofu pig in a pit, or something.

As I see it, it could be anything from a big potluck to a more structured event, with regional chefs and local food entrepreneurs preparing special dishes inspired by the magical, multi-venue fertility rite known as Totally Awesome Fest. The only difficult part, as I see it, would be how to keep it free, like the rest of the almost ten year old, city-wide event. Maybe we could raise money online for the ingredients that can’t be grown in Ypsi, or donated. Or, maybe those with money could pay to attend, thereby subsidizing those that can’t. There are a ton of possibilities. At the very least, I’m thinking that local restaurants could be persuaded to offer discounts for folks during the festival. This would be especially cool if Patrick is able to make the event a full week long next year, like he says he wants to… Or, here’s another idea. Maybe Totally Awesome Feast is a ticketed event prior to Totally Awesome Fest, with all the proceeds going toward covering the travel expenses of bands and performers coming to Ypsi from far away… So many possibilities.

And, I’m not advocating that we actually do this, but here’s the first menu item that came to mind when the Totally Awesome Feast idea popped into my head.

Also, if Patrick is serious about growing this thing next year, and trying to fill an entire week with events, he’s going to need a lot more help. If you have ideas, food-related or not, as to how we do that, please leave a comment, or reach out to Patrick directly.

Posted in Food, Special Projects, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments


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