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Grand Rapids Next-Gen Farmer Cohort 2019 - 2020

Square Roots | 10.16.19

Each year, a new cohort of farmers participates in the Next-Gen Farmer Training Program, taking a step along their journey to becoming leaders in urban farming. Here’s a glimpse into why they’re drawn to urban agriculture.

Michigan Next-Gen Farmers: Alyssa Patton, Amal Jennings, Savie Sonsynath, Winn Hermanski, Rebekah Box, Jarad Jaent, Katie LaRue, Jacob Smaby, Joshua Van Kleeck

Michigan Next-Gen Farmers: Alyssa Patton, Amal Jennings, Savie Sonsynath, Winn Hermanski, Rebekah Box, Jarad Jaent, Katie LaRue, Jacob Smaby, and Joshua Van Kleeck

Rebekah Box


“My family has a history of farming. My grandparents were sweet corn farmers and I grew up gardening with my parents every summer. After moving into my first apartment, I quickly realized that having a garden of my own was going to be far from easy. I was determined to make access to fresh, locally grown food easier for those in similar situations. With this, my love for gardening and educating others on how to grow their own food has flourished and given me a clear path to a future career. While job searching, I came across the application for the Next-Gen Farmer Training Program at Square Roots in Grand Rapids, Michigan. From their mission statement and further research, I knew that this was the perfect opportunity to help others in urban areas and to gain the skills and knowledge needed to educate future generations.”

Winn Hermanski


“While studying at the University of Oklahoma’s Entrepreneurship and Venture Management program, I developed a business plan to create affordable housing and job opportunities for the homeless. Shipping containers would be retrofitted to create tiny homes and a hydroponic farm to sustain the community. While working on this business, I discovered Square Roots and felt like the company was poised to disrupt the broken agricultural system.”

Katie LaRue


“While in college, I had the opportunity to study abroad in Costa Rica where I fell in love with food. There were markets at every corner, meals were prepared with real food, and meal times were respected in the home and at the workplace. I later moved to Stuttgart, Germany to pursue a Masters in Sustainable Agricultural Food Production. I learned the inner workings of what it takes to feed a growing population sustainably and found Square Roots after moving back home to Michigan. I hope the Next-Gen Farmer Training Program will enable me to continue disrupting the current food system.”

Savie Sonsynath


“Born and raised in Michigan, I’m a first-generation Lao-American. It’s a culture centered around food and community, and I see a lot of value in integrating my two cultures. While pre-med at Ferris State’s Biology program, I discovered the importance of nutrition on human health. This, paired with my strong cultural foundation, lead me to seek a platform to engage the public about food choice. Square Roots’ mission to connect people with real and local food deeply resonates with me, and I plan to use this opportunity to connect with the community over the healthy food options available.”

Jacob Smaby


“As an educator at heart, I started my career studying to be a high school English teacher at Grand Valley State University. After spending time working with kids in the public school system, I realized my true passion is teaching future generations about environmental issues. With the knowledge gained through the Next-Gen Farmer Training Program, I hope to inspire upcoming generations to change the way we feed our cities and communities.”

Jarad Jaent


“I grew up in the West Michigan area and spent most of my time camping, hiking, and exploring nature. My passion for the outdoors became something that I wanted to pursue a career in. Throughout my experience at Hope College, I struggled to imagine how a business degree with biology and environmental science minors could lead to the career I wanted. After meeting the cofounder of H.O.P.E Gardens and helping the non-profit establish gardens at elementary schools in the Grand Rapids area, I realized that urban agriculture was something I wanted to be a part of. I'm excited to join the Next-Gen Farmer Training Program and can’t wait to see what doors it opens in the future.”

Joshua Van Kleeck


“Born in Michigan, I grew up raising fruits and vegetables with my brother to sell at our roadside stand and local farmer's markets. I developed a passion for horticulture and business, and went on to study business at Northwood University. In college, I discovered Square Roots and was immediately intrigued, thinking it could be an amazing fit. When I heard Square Roots was coming to Michigan, I jumped on the opportunity to join the Next-Gen Farmer Training Program in this pioneering endeavor.”

Alyssa Patton

“Throughout my childhood, I was surrounded by farmland in Allegan, Michigan. My family even had a small garden with chickens. Soil farming was all I had known until my internship with Hunger Education and Resource Training where I was exposed to aquaponics, sustainable agriculture, and rooftop gardens. I began to question how people in cities could grow or have access to fresh food and I developed a passion for community development and farming. I couldn’t be more excited to join Square Roots in its endeavor to bring fresh, local produce to cities."

Amal C. Jennings


“While studying chemical engineering at the University of Oklahoma, I developed an interest in environmental stewardship and sustainable practices. I started working for Provision Organic Farm in Oklahoma City and later went on to work for CommonWealth Urban farms of OKC. After seeing the many challenges that small, organic, urban farmers face, I turned my interest to climate-controlled indoor farming and found the Square Roots Next-Gen Farmer Training Program.”

Learn more about our Next-Gen Farmer Training Program.

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