Food for the people: Muskegon trio launches Carrot Chariot with dreams of growing city’s access to local & affordable produce

[From left to right] Jason Alberts, William Jeannot, and Lou Jeannot. Photo by Anna Gustafson
When William Jeannot, Lou Jeannot and Jason Alberts envision the future of Muskegon, the three see a landscape providing food for anyone who wants it. Or needs it. For those who don’t have transportation to the grocery store and those who want to know where their food is coming from. For those who care about sustainability, about community, about the world around us becoming a little (or a lot) healthier.

The three—all of whom grew up in the area—see a place much like the one they’ve always known: a region that knows how to make it on its own, that understands the meaning of local. And not in the look-at-me-supporting-local-because-it’s-trendy way, but in the this-is-sustaining-my-life-and-city kind of local.

They see a place where people are tied to the earth, to each other, to a future that’s rooted in everyone, no matter where you live or how much money you have, being able to access healthy, locally grown and affordable food—which is why they are launching Carrot Chariot, a community supported agriculture (CSA) program that’s debuting this summer.

“We’re keen to explore how the community can benefit from knowing more about what they’re consuming and being more in control of the relationships they have with their food,” Lou Jeannot said. “If we can help people to connect with better quality food at a lower price than they can get at a grocery store, we consider one of our jobs to be done.”

First opening with 20 available spots for customers, Carrot Chariot will connect Muskegonites with produce that is being grown on a four-acre plot of land in Whitehall that’s owned by the Jeannot family.

For 20 weeks, from June through October, those who have purchased a season’s worth of goods from the organization will receive fresh produce ranging from spinach and onions to peppers, cherry tomatoes, snow peas, summer squash, and more. (For those unfamiliar with CSAs, think of them as direct connections between farmer and consumer. A customer purchases what’s known as a “share” of a CSA program, which means they regularly receive portions of what is grown on a local farm.)

The new CSA will provide a wide range of produce. Photo courtesy of Carrot Chariot

As part of Carrot Chariot, customers will be able to either have their produce delivered to their homes or pick it up at the Muskegon Farmers’ Market. The shares that are available will range from $5 to $20 per week, depending on how much produce an individual or family wants.

“The availability of crops will change as the seasons progress,” said Alberts, who works at Temple Urban Farm in Muskegon Heights, was previously at McLaughlin Grows Urban Farm in Muskegon’s McLaughlin neighborhood and is overseeing Carrot Chariot’s farming. “That will range from root crops to leafy greens to vegetables like eggplants and beets, as well as a couple herbs to round everything out. The list totals roughly 40 different varieties.”

And throughout the season, the three will provide recipes to accompany the produce given that week.

“It’s not enough for us that people receive food; we really want to encourage a healthy food culture for all of Muskegon that’s improving food access and education about how to use healthy food once they have it,” Lou Jeannot said. “We want to connect the dots: here’s a healthy, organically grown artichoke, and here’s a recipe for what you do with it.”

For years, William Jeannot and Lou Jeannot (who are brothers) and Alberts have already played a major role in the local world and have long planted seeds in the community—literally and figuratively. As previously mentioned, Alberts has a long history of working on local urban farms. If you’ve seen any live music in the city (and throughout West Michigan) over the years, we have no doubt you’ve run into William Jeannot—a local rockstar who now plays in the Muskegon-based Flexadecibel, grows his own food at home, and is partnering with Tacitus Bailey-Yabani and Jessica Bailey-Yabani to launch the Abeshi Fyah Truck, a food truck that will offer Ghanaian and West African cuisine in Muskegon. Lou Jeannot, a poet and artist, has also long been in the music scene; he and his brother previously ran Mux Rec, a record label and production studio based in Muskegon.

Cherry tomatoes will also be offered as part of the CSA. Photo courtesy of Carrot Chariot

All of which is to say: they’re connected to Muskegon. They grew up in the area, moved away for a stint and returned. Now, they’re here for the long haul—and they want to help grow the aforementioned landscape, the place that’s connected to the earth, to a community, that understands the value in growing something on your own. They want their four acres of land to be intertwined with something larger, something focused on figuring out how to live in a way that’s more respectful of the earth and tied to community.

“Our ultimate dream is to have education at the farm; we’d love to get workshops there,” said Alberts. “One workshop I’m considering putting together is a grow-your-own mushrooms workshop focusing on log cultivation. We could move onto beehive workshops. We want to build up the community on the farm and make it open and accessible to the public.”

“The dream is to have the farm be a part of the community,” Lou Jeannot added. “It gives you a community to rally around, to rally around the idea of eating local and eating fresh.”

Plus, they hope to be part of an entire movement that makes fresh food both accessible and affordable—which they hope, in a downtown like Muskegon that has limited access to groceries, could translate to a life-changing shift for residents. No longer would people have to drive or take public transportation to grocery stores like Meijer and could instead focus on growing their own food.

“Our access to food, especially fresh food, is already so challenged here in Muskegon,” Lou Jeannot said. “What are the alternative solutions? How do we have a mindset shift among the community? We should not all feel frustrated by our access to fresh food.”

The three hope this increased access to fresh food will also break down barriers for individuals and families struggling to purchase food, and in addition to supporting people growing their own food, they aim to take Electronic Benefit Transfer (often referred to as food stamps) and sponsor low-income families.

“We want to bring food to people who can’t leave their house, who can’t drive; they deserve as good food as everybody else,” William Jeannot said.

And, he emphasized, a move towards a majority of people growing their own food would translate to a significant change not only in accessibility but even in the overall taste of food.

“I love being able to walk out my front door and pick stuff for breakfast; that’s where the original conversation [about Carrot Chariot] started, from a mutual appreciation of good food,” William Jeannot said. “Knowing it was harvested that day or the day before, there’s such a sense of fulfillment.”

“Supermarket vegetables are so deficient,” he continued. “When you eat deficient food, you become deficient.”

As Carrot Chariot grows, the three owners plan to expand it, likely doubling the number of shares available next year and potentially offering honey, poultry, fish, and more, “all while staying true to regenerative principles and being good stewards of the land,” Lou Jeannot said.

“If we’re asking people to not buy their produce from a grocery store and corporation, it’s because they don’t care how the food is grown or that the land is done right by,” he said. “We care.”

To find out more about Carrot Chariot, including to sign up for the CSA program, you can visit its website by clicking here.

Story by Anna Gustafson, the publisher and editor of Muskegon Times. You can connect with Anna by emailing MuskegonTimes@gmail.com or on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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