Thursday, April 23, 2009

A model for Salem: The Greening of Detroit

Hat tip to The Progressive Review for this pointer to this important piece in the Christian Science Monitor about Greening of Detroit:

. . . As the trio cleared a bed for planting seedlings, Saba said, “I love gardening, It’s cool. It’s nice. And you can get your hands dirty without getting yelled at. You get to plant things and when they grow, you pick them.”

Such interaction between kids and adults is one reason that Ms. Kohn, an urban agriculture apprentice for the Greening of Detroit (, is encouraging families in the neighborhood to come to the garden to work, visit, and harvest fresh produce.

Another reason is that she and others see such urban gardens – 355 of them so far, planted throughout the 139-square-mile city – as vital to the revitalization of Detroit, often called a rusted out industrial city. . . .

Today, with 25 percent of the land in the city vacant due to the removal of many residential and commercial buildings, Ms. Atkinson has been instrumental in developing gardening and youth education programs to help stabilize and redevelop neighborhoods. . . .

“What we’re doing is to start with one block, and we don’t dare move until we take care of that one block,” he says.

Another key ingredient to the city’s gardening success is Earthworks, founded in 1997 by Rick Samyn of the Capuchin Soup Kitchen ( on Detroit’s East Side.

Brother Rick noticed that the poor were buying their food at gas stations, and kids were calling Coke and chips a meal. He began a small garden in a vacant lot and two years later developed six other lots by removing debris and regenerating the soil with compost.

The gardens now supply food for the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, which prepares 2,000 meals per day, and the Gleaners Community Food Bank (, which distributes 25 million pounds of food each year.

Four years ago, Earthworks added a 1,300-square-foot greenhouse that produces more than 100,000 vegetable seedlings for family, community, and school gardens across the city.

However, gardening is not just an economic or a community-building asset. It’s considered therapeutic and healing, especially for urban children who often live in a violent and unsafe world.

“The toughest children derive a sense of pleasure and accomplishment by growing plants,” says Sister Nancyann Turner, manager of the youth program at the soup kitchen. . . .

The urban garden movement began in Detroit in 1992 when Jimmy and Grace Lee Boggs, local labor and civil rights activists, envisioned a different future for the city since it was clear that industrialization was gone forever.

They founded Detroit Summer (, a multiracial, intergenerational collective that works to transform citizens and their communities by confronting problems with creativity and critical thinking.

“Actually, it was a blessing that Detroit no longer had the illusion of expansion,” says Mrs. Boggs, now in her 90s. “You can bemoan your fate or, as the African-American elders taught, you can plant gardens.”

As the garden movement caught on in the city, partnerships developed among people and organizations and became known as the Detroit Agricultural Network (DAN).

Each summer for the past 11 years, DAN has held a two-hour bus and bicycle tour to show off the community gardens to the public and to demonstrate how gardens are influencing larger issues such as reducing crime, cleaning up trash-strewn lots, connecting people to nature, nurturing leadership in citizens of all ages, and improving property values.

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