Green Detroit

9 Aug

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On Friday, I had the great pleasure of meeting some amazing people; at the same time I witnessed with my own eyes the true meaning of community, kindness, generosity, and compassion. I imagine by now most people have heard about the “green” movement in Detroit, taking empty lots and turning them into gardens and farms. This is an enormous feat and is gone about in several ways; you have your Community Gardens, Urban Farms, and yet other spaces where individuals may rent private raised beds to grow food for their own consumption. I cannot think of a better way to use vacant land and at the same time unite communities, not to mention, feed people. We regularly drive by several of these gardens, but wanted to take some time to really seek out the ones off the beaten path, we were astounded by what we found.

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Our first stop was the Georgia Street Community Garden, we wandered from the car over to squares of land filled with plants bearing summer’s bounty; tomatoes, peppers, green beans and okra were just a few of the vegetables being grown. Kris was hard at work taking pictures when Mark, the Chairman of the Georgia Street Collective came over and struck up a conversation. This is a man who has live in this neighborhood his entire life, he had grown tired of looking at vacant, trash-strewn lots and decided to make a change, thus the community garden was born. Mark is one determined fellow, having gardened with his grandmother growing up he had the needed skills to prepare the land, do the planting, and nurture the plants through to harvest.  The labor is done by volunteers, but all are welcome to take part in the bounty, just come and pick what you need. What started out as a community garden has now grown into a collective made up of several lots, fruit trees, flower beds, even a few animals, and there are plans to expand!Also, the neighborhood now enjoys a community center building, which they acquired for $1, and provides a positive environment and activities for children and families who live here. Mark is one ambitious guy who has proven that one mans vision can become a reality and truly make a difference in people’s lives.

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Truly inspired we set off for the next location on our list, another community garden across from Forestlawn Cemetery; again we found a neighborhood in trouble, but along with that, a symbol of hope, of better days to come. A garden planted by neighbors and shared by neighbors, people coming together on their own, taking things into their own hands to create a better future for themselves. We stopped in at the Earthworks Urban Farm located behind the Gleaners Food Bank, Oh what a sight it was! Rows and rows of vegetables, green and lush reaching for the sky. Ripe red and yellow tomatoes dot the branches of enormous plants, bright purple eggplant dangle from branches, sunflowers stand guard high above the vegetables, you can hardly believe you are in a large urban city. The compost pile is mounded in a sort of berm along the garden getting ready for next season. This place is truly awe inspiring. Driving a little further on is a street named Farnsworth, home to a small community garden and several private ones. It seems as though many people who live here were attracted by the large empty spaces and the opportunity to fill them. On one corner we spotted what we thought to be a community garden, but as it turns out it belongs to a single family. Intrigued by the mass of vegetables, fruit trees and flowers I wanted to get a closer look. Lucky to find to the homeowner outside, he invited us into the fenced in yard to check it out. It took a full minute or two to take in the jaw-dropping expanse of the space; vegetables, herbs, fruits and flowers all growing side by side. Cantaloupe nearly the size of a soccer ball at our feet, hazelnuts clinging to branches on a nearby bush, Pears ripe and ready to pick, they even keep bees here! I have never seen anything like this anywhere, let alone Detroit! Turns out the homeowner outgrew his two lots in Southwest Detroit, and joined the many others taking advantage of the open space in the Farnsworth neighborhood. As you drive around the block even more gardens are sprouting up.

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Looking at all this fresh produce got our appetite going, so to stick with the theme of the day we had lunch at The Raw Cafe on Woodward. Open for lunch and dinner the cafe serves up gourmet organic raw food, the menu changes seasonally, giving you the opportunity to try different dishes. It is just what it says it is, raw food; salads, sandwiches, pizza and pasta all ‘living’ foods. We selected a salad and a wrap;  both had nice flavors, super fresh crisp vegetables, a nice dressing on the salad, and tasty sauce in the wrap. Portion size and prices are consistent with the current organic/raw trend. The service was a little slow, so I wouldn’t stop in on a day you are short on time. They had a consistent flow of customers coming in for carry-outs and smoothies to go. UPDATE: As of December 2012 Raw Cafe is out of business.

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With more gardens to see and the day growing short we visited the Spirit Farm over on Martin Luther King. Another large space, this one has a bit more whimsy to it. Wine bottles decorate a tree stump and are used to border different beds, discarded tires are put to use creating raised beds, chickens have their own fenced in space, and there’s even a small greenhouse, just amazing. In Southwest Detroit we took a stroll through Hubbard Farms Community Garden, I took a ride on the tree swing, the summer breeze gently blowing, as I studied the lovely site. Here again all are welcome; volunteer a little time to share in the upkeep, and the partake in the bounty. The largest area we saw this day was an Urban Farm over on Linwood and Gladstone, this farm is huge! If you see a large Urban Garden sign on the property bearing the Urban Farming logo you know that the food grown here is free to those who need it 24/7. This particular garden is self-sustaining, rainwater is collected and stored for future watering, it’s all so incredible to me. When we were there three people were out picking, toting large plastic containers to cart the farm fresh produce back to their kitchens. Sponsored by Coca-Cola and Home Depot several more of these urban farms are being planned. The Garden Resource Program provides support to more than 875 urban gardens and farms in Detroit, Highland Park, and Hamtramck and “Sweet on Detroit” supports urban bee keeping. I find it uplifting, encouraging, and heart-warming in this day and age where greed and selfishness seem to run rampant, that people are out there extending their hand, volunteering their time and resources to make the city of Detroit a better place for those who live there, and those spending time there.

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One Response to “Green Detroit”

  1. Sandy August 10, 2011 at 9:33 am #

    Loved reading this!!! what a great way to use the extra lots in detroit.

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