Transformation Tuesday: An Abandoned Detroit Lot Becomes a Thriving Community Garden

| 2/28/2012 3:05:58 PM

One of my favorite stories covered in Natural Home & Garden in the last year was of the Spirit of Hope urban farm in Detroit. I was inspired to commission this story when I was interviewing people for my book, Housing Reclaimed, and one of them — Phoenix Commotion employee Matt Gifford — and I got to talking about all the amazing re-greening efforts going on Detroit. The city, often known for hardship and urban decay, has spent the past several years transforming itself, participating in its own grand regreening experiment as its citizens have decided to take back the crumbling inner city by developing community projects, planting neighborhood gardens and creating building supply reclamation sites.

I decided we needed a Detroit resident to tell this story, but all the stories I found online were by journalists who lived far from the Motor City. Then I found Kelli B. Kavanaugh, a co-owner of Wheelhouse Detroit, a bicycle shop on the Detroit River, and an editor for Model D, a web-based Detroit magazine. A highly engaged Detroit citizen, Kelli knew the lowdown on all sorts of amazing community projects going on her city, and we worked together to choose Spirit of Hope, which seemed to have the right balance of grassroots beginnings, community-wide engagement and national replicability. Kelli also enlisted the help of her friend, the wonderful Detroit photographer Cybelle Codish, who shot the garden in her uniquely beautiful trademark style. If you didn't get a chance to read this article in the Natural Home and Garden September/October 2011 issue, I hope you'll enjoy taking a look at some of the images and story below. You can read the full article here.

Woman and Boy Planting 

Less than two miles from the heart of downtown Detroit, the 12,000 square-foot Spirit of Hope garden was an empty lot next ot a historic church before it was transformed into a bustling community garden. Although it can best be classified as a loose farming collective, if it has a leader, it's Kathleen Devlin (above) who helped found the farm in late 2007. Gardeners and volunteers are drawn to the officially sanctioned space as a safe spot to grow food. "Last year, we logged more than 2,000 volunteer hours," Devlin says.

Cute Girl Digging 

The garden's volunteer and community activities extend to the church's Sunshine Community Preschool. All the preschool students are tasked with nurturing their own teeny-tiny garden plot, each housed in a repurposed milk crate. Other schools, many from suburban communities, send students to spend a day or week working in the garden; in exchange, Devlin spends some time in their classrooms teaching children about growing food. 

janet johnson
3/1/2012 1:36:35 AM

I am so grateful to be a part of the Garden Resource Program in Detroit. The city always seems to get bad press, but here is a program that is building community in a way that other cities (and counties, and states, and countries!) would do well to emulate. The global economy may be in chaos, but here we are turning our focus to local solutions and neighborly strength. This country would do well to rediscover its greatness by turning inward again.

2/29/2012 2:10:49 AM

In Detroit's ruins, we've found a blessing in that we now have a virtually blank slate, an empty canvas to work with. With many existing buildings gone or vacant, there is suddenly a lot of land that can be re-purposed without hinderance. While we still want to see businesses relocate to the city, we also realize that we need to make cities more human, more connected to our environment. We're realizing that green spaces, artists communities, culture and recreation are as important to a city as infrastructure, tax base, and employment. Perhaps we'll find the better balance that has eluded a lot of American cities. Here in 'the D' we're hoping that we can keep it on the right track.

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