Allen Neighborhood Center is a nonprofit in Lansing focused on revitalization of neighborhoods on the east side of Lansing with programs that impact people throughout the region.
The center is known for it’s award-winning Allen Farmers Market, urban growing initiatives, community outreach, the Allen Market Place and entrepreneurship support through programs like the Exchange and Veggie Box.
“In the beginning we had a broad scope,” said Joan Nelson, executive director of Allen Neighborhood Center. “We were helping people enroll in health insurance and health services as well as linking people with housing and utility assistance.”
In February 2000, the center started its pantry to help food insecure neighbors. Today, the Breadbasket Food Pantry hands out 1,000 pounds of produce and 200 pounds of bread over four hours to 140 neighbors in need.
“In 2004 we wanted to increase people’s access to local produce, so we started our farmers market, which at the time was a 10-week pilot for just the summer that drew over 100 people,” said Nelson. “The next year we did the first full-season farmers market and have only grown since then. We were the first farmers market in the state to accept food stamps.”
The Allen Farmers Market became a year-round farmers market in 2013 and is held from 2:30-7 p.m. every Wednesday. The market not only has local veggies, but meats, cheeses, eggs and bread made by locals. The winter market is smaller and is indoors.
In 2006, the Allen Neighborhood Center started an initiative to help people learn to grow their own food and to make more. The center built it’s own greenhouse called the Hunter Park Garden House, which is a year-round greenhouse for urban gardening, farming and education. The greenhouse also hosts gardening workshops and Saturday workshops on beekeeping, raising chickens and gardening basics.
The center also promotes health through other projects like the Exchange and Veggie Box. The Exchange is an online wholesale market that links growers in Michigan to buyers like restaurants and schools. The Veggie Box program takes some vegetables off the exchange and delivers them to a worksite. There are currently 500 subscribers and more are anticipated. Most of the funds go straight to the farmers themselves.
One of the most interesting things to come to the center is the commercial incubator kitchen. Entrepreneurs use the kitchen on an hourly basis. Thirty-five small businesses have used the kitchen in the past, and 18 small businesses are using the kitchen right now, perfecting recipes and cooking products. They can also be vendors at the Allen Farmers Market for no cost. Some of the companies also get their ingredients from the Exchange or local farmers, with some of the farmers even using the kitchen.
“The incubator also helps them with business sources, like helping with branding and other business needs,” said Nelson. “And in the future, we are hoping to expand our facility with another, larger kitchen with 24-hour access, a commercial hood, freezer, sinks and little public space where people can watch what’s going on.”
Allen Neighborhood Center is now working with the Great Lakes Capital Fund to create Allen Place with 38 units of affordable housing and integrated services. With plans for implementation over the next two years, Allen Place will have access to the Allen Farmers Market and senior and youth programs.
“We’re always concerned about housing in Lansing,” said Nelson. “We’d like to have an age-friendly initiative. The east side of Lansing is the younger side of Lansing, and older folks are leaving the east side because they can’t handle their larger houses. There is currently nothing that is affordable and age-friendly.
“Older people want to live in the neighborhoods close to the area that they loved,” she continued. “We knew that we wanted to add apartments and address housing. They aren’t only for seniors, but we think that older east siders will take a good portion.
“We have a vibrant block,” Nelson said. “But it’s becoming much more solid and lively, much more in Hunter Park with the greenhouse and pool. Foster Park is also under renovations. We look forward to the east Kalamazoo corridor becoming livelier and more commercially active. Especially on our block and other commercial nodes.”
For more information on the Allen Neighborhood Center, visit allenneighborhoodcenter.org.