Yolanda Grandison is a woman of many interests.
After earning a biology degree elsewhere, she came to University of Detroit Mercy to earn a master’s degree in Health Services Administration and another in Computer Information. She has a full-time IT position in the medical field in Detroit. But it’s what she’s doing half a world away that feeds her passion.
“I have a pig farm in Nigeria,” she says, as though it’s a statement a person might hear from just about anyone. “It’s an acre and we also grow plantains there.”
Grandison said she’s always had an interest in agriculture, but the farm is more about service to the community than profit. That’s a value she says was learned and blossomed during her time at Detroit Mercy.
“I give credit to Sr. Mary Kelly,” Grandison said, of the late, beloved associate professor in the College of Health Profession. “She is the one who really set me on to community service. She always said, ‘Your degree works for other people, not you.’”
It was four years ago, Grandison said, that she started looking to start a business. But to make it meaningful, she said it needed a community service component.
She worked with metro Detroit-based Global Africa Business Association, or GABA, and met Joshua Nuga, a resident of Nigeria who became her partner in Bountiful Harvest Farm. What started out as a one-acre pig and plantain farm has expanded and now grows palm on 10 acres nearby.
“Red palm oil is used in cooking and in other things like laundry soap in Nigeria,” Grandison said. “It’s a staple there and we are growing the palm and will soon build a processing plant to extract the oil.”
The goal, Grandison says, is to provide jobs and other support systems to improve life in the community outside Lagos that Bountiful Harvest calls home.
“In Africa, there is so much poverty and joblessness,” she said. “And kids are not going to school so it’s a cycle. We are providing jobs to hopefully bring people out of poverty.”
Grandison says as the farm grows, so will the benefits to the workers. She and Nuga are hoping to soon be able to cover the fees area children must pay to attend school. She would also like to set up a system to collect food for distribution to the poor, like Gleaners does in Michigan.
“There is nowhere for people there to go if they’re hungry,” Grandison said. “We’d like to set up a system so people are not worried about food.”
She says she has been asked “Why Africa?” by people who see many of the same problems here, but feels addressing the similar problems here would be beyond her reach.
“I love doing all the agricultural stuff,” she said, “And I love being able to help put people back to work. The people there love the idea that we’re there because they see jobs.”
Grandison travels to Nigeria a couple times a year to keep an eye on things and do the paperwork that is inherent when two people are in a business partnership half a world away from each other.
“I love it,” she said. “I believe we are making a difference.”