Kudos to David Alire Garcia for his enlightening article, “The Greening of Detroit.” As a Detroit resident, I have not only witnessed the impact of community gardens on various neighborhoods, but I have experienced it first hand as well.
My wife and I tend a plot in a Detroit community garden in an area of the city called Midtown. Last year when we first started this venture we lived in Midtown—now we are just a 15 minute walk away in Woodbridge. Midtown these days seems like ground zero for development in the city. Several restaurants, bars and retail shops have opened here in recent years. Twenty years ago, however, it was a different story. Midtown was then referred to as the “Cass Corridor,” Cass being a main thoroughfare through the area. The Corridor was a den for crack cocaine junkies and prostitutes, and it certainly was a contributor to the negative image Detroit has carried for decades. Midtown’s transition since the late 80s has been remarkable, thanks in large part to Wayne State University and a host of creative entrepreneurs.
Our experience growing vegetables and spices in an urban community garden has been a rewarding one, and not solely because we can harvest fresh produce. Two recent experiences highlight a couple of the themes Mr. Garcia discusses in his piece. The first was a simple comment spoken by a local resident as she walked by the garden pushing her infant daughter in a stroller. “We see what you’re all doing,” she announced, referring presumably to those who lived with her down the block, “and we are grateful.” Hers was a simple gesture of thanks, but one that speaks volumes about the positive effect that even small efforts can have on a formerly devastated area.
The other experience we found rewarding was getting to know some of the other gardeners. In order to maintain a plot, everyone must volunteer some time to work on projects such as building compost bins or laying mulch around the perimeter of the garden. My wife and I worked with a group to clean up an alley adjacent to the garden and dig though 8 feet of packed dirt to open up a sewer drain. It certainly felt good to accomplish some manual labor and help the neighborhood, but talking to and laughing with our fellow community gardeners was a blast! In that short time we met a number of folks and found we shared a common bond. We are rallying around a cause about which we are all passionate. That passion gives life—it breathed new life into a formerly abandoned parking lot and transformed it into a vibrant, colorful sign of vitality for a neighborhood that never gave up.