It’s been on the news and on the blogs. People are talking about them at community meetings and public events. There are vendors at Detroit’s Historic Eastern Market selling their fresh products and it seems I’m spotting them everywhere on my two-wheeled travels through Detroit. Community gardens are what I’m talking about, and there are hundreds and hundreds of them scattered across this city. Many are small pocket gardens; others span an acre or two. A few of the larger ones I’ve seen cover ten or more acres and have tractors with harrows for tilling the soil. Greenhouses spanning large sections of the gardens have been installed on some of the larger plots as well.
Detroit community gardens can be seen on major streets such as Jefferson Avenue on the east side, or on Grand River near Trumbull on the west side. But what I find encouraging is the amount of small gardens I see deep within some of the city’s most blighted and sparsely populated neighborhoods. Riding through those parts, I’ve come across areas where residents have turned vacant, weed chocked parcels of land into well maintained gardens featuring a variety of vegetables, all planted in neat little rows without a weed in sight. Rustic fences (some made of tree limbs) line the plots. Small signs, in many cases hand painted, note the block club or organization responsible for the garden. In addition to vegetables, many of them include colorful wildflowers in a variety of sizes.
On the other end of the gardening spectrum are the larger community gardens. These are run by organizations such as the Georgia Street Community Garden and Earthworks, and they promote education, social justice and neighborhood stabilization. Their operations engage neighborhood kids, mentoring them on gardening and how it benefits their community through collaboration and sharing with others. Much of the food grown is given to the poor through various outreach programs.
No matter the size of the gardens, their affiliation with larger organizations, or their goals or mission in the community, I see them all as great stabilizers. Something small and meaningful for those that may not have much to look forward to in the communities in which they live. It’s heartwarming riding through Detroit and seeing that people are making a difference in some pretty tough neighborhoods.