On Wednesday, August 4, the Detroit Agricultural Network hosted their 14th annual tour of urban gardens and farms in Detroit. DAN is part of the Garden Resource Program Collaborative, which is a partnership between DAN, the Greening of Detroit, Earthworks Urban Farm, Michigan State University, and over 185 community organizations around the city to provide support to gardens and urban farms in Detroit, Highland Park, and Hamtramck. Six packed tour buses transported participants on three different tours—central, east, and west end routes—and two bicycle tours led riders through farms in the Woodbridge/North Corktown and the Art Center/New Center areas. All tours left from the Catherine Ferguson Academy, a charter school for pregnant teens and teen mothers which provides a gardening program for students. In addition to several plots in which herbs, lettuces, chard, and other greens were growing there were also goats, chickens, turkeys, and a horse on the premises, all of which are cared for by the students of the academy.
The central tour showcased three gardens: Hope Takes Root, the Penrose Art Garden, and the Oakland Avenue Community Garden. Hope Takes Root, which is in north Corktown, was founded by the sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary fifteen years ago where the Motor City Casino is now. The garden was moved to its present location on Wabash between Temple and Perry and is now tended by area residents. In 2007 the first beehive was established through the “Sweet on Detroit” urban beekeeping program, and today there are six hives. Another highlight of the garden is “the Osprey”, a gravitational irrigation system that captures rainwater and distributes it throughout the gardens. There is also a vine garden, and a permaculture plot where a variety of fruit, nut, and berry trees/plants grow. Volunteers are welcome to stop by on Thursdays after 4pm, and Sundays after 11am to help out.
The Penrose Art House and Art Garden is a newer community garden sponsored by Penrose Village, a housing project built by the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, and GrowTown, a nonprofit dedicated to helping blight-ridden neighborhoods become self-organizing. The two gardens on the premises are tended by local children, and free art classes are given in the Art House. The first garden was planted just last year, and housed several vegetable varieties as well as a strawberry patch. It was decorated with hand painted signs and flags created by the children in the art classes. The second garden, planted this year, is a market garden, and the produce grown is sold to area restaurants. Teens are employed for eight hours a week to tend this garden. Several of the children who tend the gardens were on site to show visitors around, and were clearly very proud of their work.
The Oakland Avenue Community Garden is in its third season, and is thriving due to the dedication of St. John the Evangelist Church, the North End Christian CDC, and the residents east of Oakland. Jerry Ann Hebron, the garden leader, currently has fourteen youth in a summer program where they learn to grow food and care for the environment. Indeed, the Oakland Community Garden is the top seller in the Grown in Detroit Collective which sells the produce of sixty Detroit gardens at their weekly stands at Wayne State University and Eastern Market. The garden has a patio and pergola, and a mural painted by Youthville Detroit teens, and is the center of activities for the Garden Resource Program in Highland Park. New developments this year include a weekly market stand, the purchase of a house and lot across the alley from the garden, and a solar passive greenhouse to extend the growing season and provide additional education for the summer youth program.
Community gardens in Detroit are slowly changing food policy in the city, and as there are 365 community gardens, 46 market gardens, 60 school gardens, and 840 family gardens in the city proper this year, it is no wonder. Still, $200 million is spent on food from outside Detroit each year. If just 20% of that was spent in the city, it would mean half a billion in revenue for the city, including $20 million in urban taxes. The urban farming movement, as showcased on this tour, is certainly not a new idea, but the innovative, passionate minds behind all of Detroit’s farming efforts are slowly transforming the city into a self-sustaining cornucopia, and providing a sense of community where it is desperately needed.