Natural Detroit:: DIY Urban Garden Tour

One of my closest friends came to spend the night. She came in the fall, and we had our first Detroit weekend together. Luckily she enjoyed it enough to come back. Last time, we made a fire in our fire pit in the backyard, biked with the dog along the river, and scored some 'real deal' tacos in Southwest Detroit from a taco truck that were so good I've looked for it on every drive I've made down Vernor ever since.

We were both exhausted from challenging weeks so we were happy to spend Friday just hanging out, catching up, drinking Oberon and eating pizza and cannoli so good that someone may have exclaimed "holy shit!" after the first bite. We made a fire in the backyard again, inviting our new next door neighbor to join the conversation.

In the morning, we slept in a little then went out to get coffee and something to eat. I had no plan in mind and thought about biking or walking somewhere but eventually I decided we should just jump in the car. We made our way over to Honest John's for unlimited refills and a cheap, well-prepared diner breakfast in a bar environment. After paying the $13 bill, we got back in the car with a plan to drive over to check out an urban farm on the east side that I've wanted to see. I met the farmer last fall during an Urban Agriculture tour that was part of the Policy Link Equity Summit, after reading about her farm online. Recently, I saw her featured in the pilot episode of a new PBS show called Food Forward about people transforming the food system.

My friend lives and keeps a prolific garden in Marquette which is in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Her garden feeds her, her husband and countless other visitors all winter despite the more challenging northern growing climate.

Before we got on I-94 to head east, we saw the North Cass Community Garden and decided to stop. I've driven by this spot many times and it's a head turner. The sign on the iron gate says the garden has been funded by a variety of heavy hitting foundations and businesses in the area.
We walked among impressive raised beds and snapped photos so we could remember the good ideas gardeners had implemented. 

Wine and beer bottles put to use as a slow watering mechanism.

And a compost rotation system. The signs told you whether you could throw your food scraps on the pile to be composted and when a box of compost was ready for use.

Garden whimsy? This fella was beautifying one person's raised bed. I named him Mr. Sexy Eyes.My husband and I, along with neighbors, are participating in a new community garden in our neighborhood where we're growing vegetables in four 4'x4' raised beds. In addition to planting, watering and weeding, I spent a good deal of time the last month online and in stores figuring out how I want to trellis my tomatoes, beans, cucumbers and melons. This garden gave me a lot of options to consider, although I'm still planning on trying this cattle fencing option. Luckily the metro Detroit area has several farm supply stores to choose from. Actually, the city of Detroit now has its own farm supply store to support the growing number of gardens and farms within the city limits, including supplying our garden's dirt and compost.

One of my wild ideas is a starting u-pick berry farm in the city. The raspberry bush I planted last year in our little backyard is not getting enough sun and only dreams of producing fruit like this one.

Another excellent idea we saw (not pictured) was making a hoop frame out of PVC piping, like this, to cover your raised bed.

After a thorough self-tour, we walked back to the car. This apartment building down the street is also in on the action with its own raised beds.
We got on I-94 and headed up to the Van Dyke exit. My heart went up into my throat when I realized this farm we were looking for was right across the street from the cemetery Matt's grandpa (and my grandpa by way of marriage and love) is buried. He was a gardener too, and one my favorite memories of him was his delight in serving us a meal of centered on thick slices of green and red summer tomato from his backyard.

After driving around the block which dead ends at Detroit City Airport, we found the spot. The eastside of Detroit has been the most deeply affected by disinvestment, white flight, and neighborhood destabilization and it's common to see one well-kept home next to a series of vacant lots or even a shell of a house burned out down to its foundation. 

A midst a scene of economic devastation I'll never quiet get used to, Mrs. Edith Floyd's Growing Joy Community Garden is a friendly spot.
We weren't sure planting had been done throughout the garden yet or if other lots being farmed were on another street but one corner of the community garden was overflowing with impressive beds of lettuces.

When I met Mrs. Floyd in the fall, I asked her about water. We struggled with water last year in our previous garden and ended up hauling containers from a distance more often than not. She said she ran a hose from her house, and sometimes the firemen offered to help out. I hoped that she didn't have to cut back on her planting because water prices have gone up significantly this year. I noticed she had a clever water catchment structure in one corner of the garden. I felt so glad to be out seeing other people's solutions to urban gardening obstacles. Mrs. Floyd is known for owning a tractor, and I heard from a garden in a different part of the city that she's offering plowing services.

Across the street was my favorite sight of the day. I have a sweet spot for bee and honey photography.
On our way up to Growing Joy, I noticed we passed Georgia Street so after we left Mt. Olivet, we drove about a mile down Van Dyke to add an unexpected third stop to our self-led DIY Detroit garden tour. The Georgia Street Community Collective is now a nonprofit founded and led by Detroit urban agriculture activist Mark Covington since starting the Georgia Street Community Garden when we lost his job and began cleaning up a vacant lot across from his childhood home. His work has even caught the attention of the White House.

The signs they have made are incredibly charming. The garden and Collective has a youth participation and education mission. What a great way to connect kids to the plants growing by showing them the foods that will be available to them as the season progresses. To the left of the garden plot is a small orchard.

When I came home and read more about Georgia Street, I learned that they've transformed a vacant building into a community center where kids can do homework and access computers. They also have built a child-friendly space with a playground which we did not see during our stop.

I guess this just means I'll have to go back later in the season to see what else is growing.


hattie said...

Great post!!!!! thanks for all of the GREAT links!!!!! good luck with your garden.....I wish we could have stayed longer the other day!!!! Happy summer!!!!!

Liz said...

One year we had a pumpkin patch in our front yard. We had just moved into the house and didn't have a lawn yet. The little pumpkin plants just sort of appeared. What a fun summer that was - the kids loved checking the pumpkins as they grew.