By Christopher Raab
How cool is Detroit? Cool as a cucumber. Cool by the bushel. With at least 800,000 residents and only four full-sized supermarkets, this has been a city long left to tend to its own garden. Well, be careful not to step on the squash or cauliflower because it is doing just that.
Instead of sugar and starching it up at the corner store – often the only choice for intercity residents without a car – people trying to say no way to obesity and diabetes have turned to growing and managing their own foods increasingly since the ‘90s. What they have harvested has been a cornucopia of nationwide positive attention for Detroit on just what the right seeds can sow: city and suburban residents farming together, abandoned tar and cement lots turned back to soil and leafy fields, healthy foods and healthy attitudes – good in a bowl and good for the soul.
The urban farming movement has its deepest roots with the Detroit Garden Resource Program Collaborative, which provides its bounty through organizations like Greening of Detroit, Capuchin Soup Kitchen Earthworks Urban Farm (www.cskdetroit.org), Michigan State University and the Detroit Agriculture Network (www.detroitagriculture.org). The combined yield, according to Greening of Detroit, includes 320 families and 170 community gardens for a total of 80 acres. Participants grow 41 different fruits and vegetables—about 120 tons of it.
But, it gets greener still. Crain’s writer, Marti Benedetti, observes, “Take a drive through the city’s east side neighborhood streets. Travel through sections of Brightmoor and the North End. Walk along Linwood on the city’s near west side. Vacant land abounds. But slowly, along these nearly empty streets, acreage is beginning to take shape as gardens and farm plots. Growing in the hot sun are carrots, beets, tomatoes, squash, mustard greens, corn, watermelon and strawberries.”
Where else do they grow? You name it: Earthworks raised three tons of food next to the old Mount Elliot Cemetery. Southfield-based Urban Farming, has a partnership with Wayne County to farm 20 of the county’s foreclosed properties.
A former gas station is now the site of the North Cass Community Garden where 90 people rent 4-foot by 8-foot plots for $25 a season. Most people can walk to where they plant. Schools and churches and neighborhood groups are greening it up. One example I read about is Rosary Community Garden run by Sister Joan Baustian off Woodward Avenue. The nun grows a garden that feeds people in the neighborhood with the help of kids on the block.
Everywhere there are proposals for converting more areas. While most of the ideas are aimed at residents growing their own food or with helping the poor, agri-business people are pushing for commercial farming—one thought is to transform 70 acres near the Eastern Market to farm-to -market ventures including Christmas trees, although zoning laws may scuttle the plan. Less ambitious but over the top in its own right is this tidbit from the Detroit News: The Ferguson Academy recently held a seminar on raising backyard chickens and began the event by pointing out to the 100 plus attendees that it was, in fact, illegal!
The point, however, is that in Detroit, growing is growing and as a result, so is community pride empowerment and healthy diets. How cool is that?
Want to get downright dirty in the city? QL’s amazing engineers can switch to overalls (literally or figuratively) in a number of different ways (from various related sites):
- TAKE A TOUR - If you’d like to see a sampling of Detroit’s urban gardens, the Detroit Agricultural Network is holding an urban garden tour from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Aug. 10. The tour is free; sign-in starts at 4:30 p.m. at the 4-H Community Center at 5710 McClellan. Donations will be accepted. There is limited space. To reserve a space contact Ashley Atkinson at 313-237-8736 or email@example.com. For more info, visit Greening of Detroit at www.greeningofdetroit.com
- DIG IN DETROIT – Throughout the season, ‘Dig in Detroit’ provides opportunities for groups and individuals to volunteer in Detroit’s urban gardens. As seasonally appropriate, volunteers assist with garden preparation, planting, harvesting and special projects such as sign making and building compost bin building. In addition to the appreciation they receive from the gardens they are supporting, volunteers also have the opportunity to learn first and through their service about the thriving urban agriculture community growing in Detroit. For more information on volunteering, contact Lindsay Turpin at 313-285-1249.
- WHERE TO VOLENTEER OR GET HELP WITH YOUR OWN GARDEN-
Earthworks Urban Farm
1264 Meldrum, Detroit, has many volunteer opportunities. Call (313) 579-2100, Ext. 204, or contact them via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Detroit Garden Resource Program
They provide classes, and individuals can become members to receive plants, seeds and compost. For more information, call The Greening of Detroit at (313) 237-8736 or visit www.detroitagriculture.org.
- The Greening of Detroit
While focusing on planting trees and creating green space in Detroit, the group also needs volunteers and provides other resources to gardeners. For more information, call (313) 237-8736 or e-mail the group at email@example.com.
- Michigan State University Extension
MSU can help with everything from analyzing your soil to hosting classes on how to preserve produce. They can be reached at (517) 355-2308 or at (888) 678-3464.
- How to start a city garden
Here are some tips:
Find a parcel of land. If privately owned, find the owner and get permission. If city- or county-owned, contact Detroit or Wayne County about purchasing the land. Although some people start gardens without permission, the strongest community gardens are those established through legal means.
- Get a water source. Ask a neighbor; have the city install a water source and meter — a cost is involved; haul water yourself; or set up a rain barrel.
- Get good soil. The MSU extension can help with soil testing. Or because of contamination fears, bring in new dirt and create a raised bed for planting.
Start planting. Seeds are cheap and readily available. Plants, though more expensive, can also be purchased at local farmers’ markets.
Source: Detroit Agriculture Network