Saturday, May 24, 2008

Infuse Detroit - Urban Gardening

Life After People

Detroit's Pingree Potato Patch

Polish women on their way to Pingree's Potato Patch in Detroit, 1893.

(Taken from SidewalkSprouts)

An economic depression between 1892 and 1897 caused poverty and unemployment, in turn causing a higher demand for community gardens in cities. The Mayor of Detroit, a city hit hard by the depression, asked that owners of vacant lots allow the unemployed to grow vegetables for subsistence on their land. These lots were nicknamed "Pingree's Potato Patches" after mayor Hazen S. Pingree. It was hoped that the cultivation would not only increase food supply, and therefore supplement income, but also provide a feeling of self respect and independence. The gardens saved money because taxes did not need to be raised as much to help support the unemployed. The city initially invested $3,000 in the urban gardening program. In the first year, $12,000 worth of vegetables and potatoes were harvested, meaning $9,000 of relief expenditures were saved. Over several years, a total of 2,000 families participated in the urban gardening program in both Detroit and Buffalo. These programs made unemployed people feel useful, unlike the make-work welfare programs that were looked upon as second-rate jobs. There were many benefits attributed to this program, including hope, self-respect, independence, self-reliance, and the therapeutic benefits of fresh air and exercise, as well as financial savings. Another benefit identified was that immigrants would socialize in these gardens and therefore learn the "American way" more rapidly and easily become part of the United States melting pot. Several other smaller scale urban gardening programs were started in Minneapolis, Denver, and Chicago.


Located on Newburg Road between Seven and Eight Mile in Livonia is Greenmead. Originally, this was an open, empty field divided by a long wooded spot and more open field that is now a Rugby field. What to do with the leftover land and fill in the area? Community gardens. Livonia residents rent plots for $25, non-residents for $50. Livonia tills the land and for a few years, old vegetation that has been left behind by previous gardeners is tilled under resulting in rich, black soil. Last year a family friend rented a plot and had such a huge harvest that we were invited to take what we needed (rather than what we wanted). Old-timers offer advice to younger gardeners and master gardeners (Asians who have plots further down) offer wooden structures made from small fallen trees and vegetation I've never seen before. Each family working their plot utilizes their own techniques. Some gardeners just plant flowers. Some just cabbage.

So, until Georgia Street's plots take-off, I'm visualizing that they'll look like this by the end of summer.

By the way, Livonia does not water your plants for you. They have spouts further away that one can use to fill either a pail, watering can, or, if you're smart, a really long hose.

I was invited this year to split the cost of a plot. We were actually going to pull two plots together. I had decided by late Winter that I would rather try my hand at my own little plot in my yard, conserve gas, and not be so greedy growing more than I could ever use.

I'd like some of their soil, though!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A 2007 Detroit Beginning

It's hard to find images of Detroiters where there's a positive image of people actually working to rebuild their city.  It's not that it doesn't happen every day, I'm sure it does, but where is the main stream media focusing on things like this?  Every day someone in Detroit does something good for someone or something good for Detroit.   That should be a daily post in the Free Press or The News.  Positive people.  Every day.

Does anyone know where in Detroit this is and if it was successful?

NOTE:  I've been told by Cub that this group is the Hope Takes Root on Wabash in Detroit.  If you check the link for their name, they've come so far in just one year.  Amazing!

Here's Cub!

I stopped by to meet Cub a few days ago and drop off a few plants.  He's showing me the beginnings of his Georgia Street Garden.  Past the stone monument he built there will hopefully be a fruit orchard.  It's still green grass and needs to be plowed.  He's got a few plants growing and he's seen some wildlife returning.  He needs a few strategically placed rain barrels for watering his garden and perhaps a nice person with a tractor and tilling attachment.  I truly would love to see this blossoming into a huge veggie garden and Cub breaking into a sweat being unable to keep up with a HUGE harvest.  He also wants to build a greenhouse to keep plantings going through the winter or at least growing his own plants from seed and keeping costs down.  

Cub told me the name of the church in the background but I've forgotten the name already.  I know St. Joseph was in the title and that it was once a Catholic church but whether it's attached to the original St. Josephat is unknown.  Highly unlikely considering the date of St. Josephat but I'm wondering about St. Joseph's that was not far from St. Albertus and the other two sisters of this three-some, St. Hyacinth and Sweetest Heart of Mary.  

Stop by.  Cub and his family are wonderful, kind people and they'll be happy to show you how far they've gotten.  I'll be seeing them early in the summer and lending a hand.

Here They Come!

The Georgia Street Community Garden brought in readers from Detroityes and the garden is coming along.  Cub has also had LOTS of donations of plants and seeds so he's got a job ahead of him and limited time.  If you're ever in the area, stop by to look or to help.  It makes you feel good and you're helping a community take its neighborhood back.  Remember, the Power of One?  Cub now has the Power of Many.  

Protecting The Garden

This is my 10'x12' garden.  It will feed nine people throughout the summer and canning tomatoes for sauce will help feed us through the winter months.  The lumber is untreated and was laid over the old garden that had poor soil from last year so raising the bed and mixing the soil organically through Spring will hopefully bring in a nice crop.  Planted here are nine tomato plants (Beefmaster, Early Girl, Roma, and a few German Heirloom tomatoes that I've never seen before.  Also just coming up are spinach, endive, mesculan, basil, cilantro, peas, rhubarb, parsley, celery, cucumbers, broccoli, red cabbage, green cabbage, thyme, oregano, head lettuce, chives, red peppers, green peppers, strawberries, marjoram, and rosemary.  Out of view are three pumpkins for the kiddies.

We've also had a few bunnies that had a good meal the other night so what's not in this photo are a few glass jars from milk that were placed on sticks at bunny eye-level.  The glare from the evening reflects off a bunny's eyes and scares them away.  Around the outside of the garden I took a cheese grater and a bar of soap and grated along the outside edges.  I'll also be adding cut human hair and dog hair from our dog.  The smell will freak out a bunny and keep them out without having to completely cage off the garden or add chemicals.  

Although this garden is not located in the City of Detroit, it's a small way of showing how homeowners can begin feeding themselves on a small budget, teaching children about the earth and learning to give back and give away what you don't use.

To Begin Again

Let's just say you're one man.  Each parcel of land near your home is 25x100 feet and there are three or four of them.  You're tired of the dumping and the litter.  You know your neighbors are good people but what comes with lack of jobs and money is sometimes depression.  It slows people down.  It makes them believe that nothing good will ever come to them.  Let's just say you're tired of it.  Children have a right to be active and happy and to grow up with a healthy curiosity about the world around them rather than seeing depression over and over again.  But it takes ONE person to start that ball rolling.  Just one.  Eyes are watching from behind curtains.  They're shaking their heads believing it's futile.  But here comes this one man, Cub, with a huge idea.  It starts slowly and seems almost impossible.  But he's a strong man and he's got a lot of faith in himself and good people in the neighborhood.  Like the hard land he's working, the people need just a little bit of a jump start.  They'll see.

Arriving Daily

I can recall about 15 years ago telling my mother that I was renting a tiller and was going to have a huge garden in our back yard.  Both my mother and brother laughed at me.  We lived on a half acre and I was a small person who was determined to have fresh, organic produce even if it killed me!

As my family stood on the side-lines laughing at me wading through muck with a rented rototiller, I knew I'd already won.  Yes, it was hard work and I usually ended up with a migraine from the heat but I continued to plow.  Later I had to put up chicken wire as I watched bunnies go into convulsions at all the free produce being grown.  Every day I was in that garden working.  I even had people stop just to admire all the work I'd done.  And it payed off.  I canned enough tomatoes to feed a small army.  I did that without the help of anyone.  So here's Cub's beginnings on land that hasn't been used in years.  It's a start and others ARE watching.  Including myself, The Amateur Gardner Who Will Not Listen To Anyone.

The Power of One

Cub resides on Georgia Street in Detroit.  Originally, this neighborhood was a working class German/Polish neighborhood.  100 years later, it is prairie fields, burnt or abandoned homes wedged in with hardworking people trying to make ends meet.  Just as the people in this neighborhood did 100 years ago, the past makes an example for those in the present.  DO IT YOURSELF.

So begins the power of one man who was sick of seeing his neighborhood used as a dumping ground.  As Cub begins picking up three lots no longer used, he ropes off the properties and calls it The Georgia Street Community Garden.  Land not used in years is rock hard.  This is going to be tough work for one person but he posts his beginnings on Detroityes. com and people become interested.  

Sections of garden are spaced out but a heavy-duty tiller is still needed.  One man with a rototiller cannot do all of it, though I'm pretty sure Cub will give it his all.  Cub even has the great idea of recycling rubber tubing that original housed cable that was dumped on the curb to use as fencing.  Great idea!