It’s harvest time, and Farmer Carol Bontekoe nips away at the fruits of the edible trail system winding through Grow Benzie’s home base, a farmhouse/community center surrounded by acreage of producing farm fields.

She’s in charge of the incubator farm here, which educates and launches aspiring farmers. Farmer Carol also runs a program called New Dawn Fields, which helps heal and employ survivors of abuse and sexual assault through “dirt therapy.” The MSU ag extension uses her tomato crop to teach community cooking classes.

But don’t stop here—this is no mere do-good farm. Keep wandering the paths. The bee boxes belong to the local beekeepers guild (they’ve got a honey-spinning party scheduled this week) and were made by kids in Grow Benzie’s after-school program, which builds and sells them to local apiaries to fund the center’s wood shop and home ec classes. The bee guild teaches the kids how to care for the bees.

Step inside now to the old farmhouse–turned-community center and down the stairs—here’s a sewing studio and a maker space. A local woman wanted to start a chapter of Days for Girls, making feminine hygiene kits for girls overseas who lose days of work each month because they lack basic hygiene supplies. Sixty people have met here and sewed 2,000 kits that were sent to girls in 10 different countries.

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It’s the work of inspired community building and a genius blend of hands on, hands off and connection making, all under the guidance of Executive Director Josh Stoltz.

He’s tasked with the often-challenging job of systems building—and explaining what that is.

“We’re recognizing our role in the community as more of a connector,” he says. “We put people where they shine the most.”

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