Tag Archives: Urban Farming

DETROIT: Eastern Market: Always Growing…

15 Jul

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It’s Saturday, the two of us will be joining the estimated 45,000 people who head to Detroit’s Eastern Market on any given Saturday in the summer; the nation’s largest historic public market has been at this location since 1891.There have been many changes to the 4.5 acre district over the last 100-plus years; long-standing businesses have been handed down through generations–new businesses have popped up on Russell, Division, Riopelle and other streets in the district, sheds have been upgraded with roll-up doors and heat. More and more people continue to discover the charm, vitality and community feeling that is Eastern Market; it’s Detroit’s history and its future.

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Russell Street is a beehive of activity; ribs are cooking over an open fire in front of Bert’s, cars roll slowly in search of parking, shoppers are loaded down with flats of strawberries and hanging flower baskets as they sip on a cold beverage and munch on tasty free samples. We begin our visit at Shed 5, after much work and great anticipation the shed officially re-opened in May. There’s a new fully licensed, rentable community kitchen; people considering opening a food-based business can use the space to try out their idea before committing to a brick and mortar shop. The kitchen also hosts cooking classes and demonstrations. The Kid Rock Commons is a 2,000 sq ft indoor gathering space next to the community kitchen that can be rented out for private meetings, events and parties. Roll up doors have been installed on both sides, today a lovely cross breeze keeps us cool, heated cement floors are sure to make those January visits more comfortable. I linger at a booth selling Hydrangeas; fragrant ball-shaped clusters cover the leafy shrubs.

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Outside we follow the covered walkway taking in flats of annuals that have long outgrown  the tray, herbs are tall and ready for harvest, Asiatic lilies create a sea of yellow; bargains are everywhere. Kelsey Rose is tap dancing on a sheet of plywood in an open area, a talented young lady accompanies her on the violin, dollar bills are tossed into a jar. As we proceed through the market we encounter more buskers; a xylophone player serenades us with Tiki-inspired tunes, a guitar player sings and plays the harmonica, music fills the air at every turn. Fresh Michigan greens are bountiful today, radishes are huge, we sample goat cheese, beef jerky and Ingrams Fine Candies, I think I need to buy one of those hanging terrariums…. 

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Next we arrive at Motorless City Bicycle Co. on the East Fisher Freeway service drive; new to the market district they seem to be doing quite well. Bicycles line one side of the showroom wall, brands include Fuji, Civia, State, Surly and Detroit Bikes–don’t see something that suits you? They have their own fabrication facility on-site. This is a full service bicycle shop; they offer repair service, parts and accessories. Bicycles are becoming more than a form of recreation in the city, they are transportation; bicycle racks are a common sight in front of restaurants and shops. Have you heard of Detroit Bike Polo?

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Over on Gratiot a cluster of brick buildings have recently found new life; restaurants and galleries have given folks reason to explore this part of the market district. We’re here to have brunch at Trinosophes, a coffee shop/performance/event space contained in a quaint red-brick building with large Gratiot-facing windows. The interior is huge! An assortment of tables sits atop terazzo floors; there’s a coffee bar, lending library and cozy seating areas. We take a seat and get right to business ordering, my iced americano arrives in record speed, a splash of cream sweetens it ever so slightly–don’t you love the way it looks as the cream makes its way through the espresso to the bottom of the glass? Oh how I love coffee… We choose one sweet and one savory dish from the menu to split, Kris goes straight for the sweet: 3 corn cakes rest atop thick puddles of lemon curd, a fresh blueberry compote is spooned over top, buttermilk whipped cream crests the plate, a sprinkle of praline adds just the right amount of crunch. It’s important to get a little bit of everything on your fork, a bite of heaven! The breakfast sandwich is the perfect mix of savory ingredients; a homemade biscuit is split and filled with a fried egg, peppery bacon, house made dill pickle slices and leaf lettuce, yum. Watermelon slices are a nice touch. You can stop in for brunch Saturday and Sunday from 10 am to 3 pm, selections change weekly. Check out the website for all the action taking place at Trinosophes.

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Our stomachs are full our appetites satisfied. We pop into the adjoin space where People’s Records maintains the Michigan Audio Heritage Society Museum. The sunny space is a record lovers paradise; walls are speckled with old black and white photos, vintage album covers and newspaper clippings, 45’s, LP’s and 78’s fill crates and cubbies. Lyman Woodard is the featured artist today; a bulletin board displays hand-written checks signed by Woodard, a handbill, t-shirt and items of recognition. A Detroit-based Jazz organist you might now him from his 1975 mega-hit Saturday Night Special. Woodard also did a number of recordings with drummer Melvin Davis and guitarist Dennis Coffey. It’s a pretty cool little place to check out, be sure to stop and look at the front window display of old record players turned planters. At the end of the block, multicolored bricks fill the space below front windows, an open door and a sandwich board invite us to visit Riopelle Collective. Shared by 5 artists, it is a collective of local artists and designers who work, collaborate and teach in the studio. Both finished pieces and works in progress are on display, the letterpress section is open and interesting to see; the studio is open to the public on Saturday from 9 am to 4:30 pm.

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It’s late afternoon, we decide to end the day with a cocktail from Detroit City Distillery back in the market area. They are celebrating Summer of Gin, who doesn’t like a celebration (or Gin)? Open for less than a year, the tasting room hides in a nonchalant building on Riopelle; a couple of half barrels are used as planters out front, a full barrel is mounted sideways to the building. Inside walls are exposed brick, the antique bar is softly illuminated by pendant lights, cabinets behind the bar are beautiful and old–mirrors on top, ice boxes on the bottom. Bottles of Detroit City Distillery Gin, Whiskey, Bourbon and Vodka glow on shelves behind the bar. Scanning the menu we each pick a cocktail, Drunk Yoga for Kris, Carpal Tinder Syndrome for myself. Both made with Gin we find them refreshing and delightful. DCD was founded by eight childhood friends that joined forces to create small-batch, artisanal spirits, they offer original cocktails along with classics like the Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Gimlet and Moscow Mule. 

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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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