Wayne State University

DETROIT– For anyone who has ever attended a Wayne State farmers market or spent time in an on-campus garden, chances are they’ve met Will Ahee. The Wayne State urban studies senior and resident of Detroit, Mich., has spent much of his undergraduate career as a leader, organizer and researcher of local food efforts.

“For me it’s sort of a spiritual thing; getting my hands in the soil really connects me to the place,” Ahee said. “Now, after a few years, I am just so in love with the city. I want to do what I can to bring positive change to the community.”

Ahee is a student leader for SEED Wayne, a program directed by Kami Pothukuchi, Ph.D. SEED Wayne is a largely volunteer-based organization that builds sustainable food systems on Wayne State’s campus and in Detroit communities.

For almost all SEED Wayne projects, Pothukuchi is conducting “action research” to develop models for sustainable food systems in urban areas. Ahee carries out much of the day-to-day leg work including coordinating volunteers, conducting surveys and helping with focus groups. He also works with Pothukuchi on documentation, analysis and problem-solving.

The project on which he has spent much of his time is healthy corner stores, based near the Capuchin Soup Kitchen on Detroit’s east side. Ahee was instrumental in setting up the project and has continually worked with the stores to overcome the many obstacles in their transition to offering produce. “We’ve learned that it takes a store owner really wanting to improve the health of the community, rather than making an immediate profit, to get an effort like this off the ground,” he said.

Ahee’s experience in action-based research for SEED Wayne has given him a comprehensive understanding of what it takes to work in the non-profit sector of Detroit, from valuable research methods to knowledge of the time and effort needed to building strong partnerships and community relationships.

“I’ve learned a lot about the real needs and obstacles that people have,” he said. “Setting up a community garden doesn’t solve the problem of food access – it’s not that simple. But you have to build trust with community members in order to work through other cultural and economic obstacles.”

After graduation, Ahee hopes to attend medical school and then open a free clinic that combines food access and healthcare. The clinic would include the holistic approaches to healthy living he has learned in his time working with SEED Wayne gardens and community research projects.

“Will hadn’t taken any classes on research or data analysis, but he’s grown to understand the principles of research from the various projects he’s worked on for SEED Wayne,” Pothukuchi said. “He’s committed to Detroit and he’s committed to sustainability. It will be interesting to see where this experience will take him next.”

For more information, contact Amy Oprean at oprean@wayne.edu.

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Wayne State University is one of the nation’s pre-eminent public research universities in an urban setting. Through its multidisciplinary approach to research and education, and its ongoing collaboration with government, industry and other institutions, the university seeks to enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the city of Detroit, state of Michigan and throughout the world. For more information on research at Wayne State University, visit http://www.research.wayne.edu.