Decay and growth

Detroit was once an industrial city. Today factory site be turned into beds and fields. Can the garden movement to save the ailing city?

Located stalactites have formed on the ceiling of the factory. The wind sweeps through the production rooms, begin the splinters in the window frame to sound. By embarked window you can see a meadow: Vigorous trees are around a piece of exposed soil. A small garden, still in hibernation. Someone has a shield installed: Anderson Community Garden. In a few weeks here, opposite the factory ruins Fisher Body 21 fresh green, sprout. Decay and growth are neighbors in Detroit.

Speramus Meliora – We hope for better – stands on the flag of the city. As once the factories are today the gardens that give visitors the feeling that Detroit has a future. Since the nineties, 21 no one has worked at Fisher Body. Earlier here Cadillac bodies were built. The auto industry was Detroit’s most important economic factor. In the fifties, the conveyor belts of the factories seemed to carry cash. Detroit stood for chromium and powerful engines. Today in the city are more ruins than in Rome or Athens: empty skyscrapers and cinemas, residential and places of worship. Around one million people have “Motor Town” leave since the heyday. Whole 713,777 inhabitants, the city today. The urban area, however, is as large as San Francisco, Boston and Manhattan together.


Willie Spivey is one of those who stayed. He works on the EarthworksFarm, a nonprofit garden project in Detroit’s East Side, just five minutes drive from the skyscrapers in Downtown away. Two acres of land, just over 8,000 square meters belong to the farm, the use of volunteers in organic quality fruits and vegetables are grown. In the surroundings of the fields the decline is particularly evident. Many of the houses have boarded window. Some are burned. There are several commercial buildings, a gas station. In between lies fallow. And a Franciscan monastery with accurately trimmed trees.

“Before I started working at Earthworks, I stood up for my meal in the soup kitchen of the monastery.” Willie Spivey is 56 years old. Previously he has been hired as a laborer. In 2009, this was not enough more to buy food. It was the year of the financial crisis. In Detroit there were three times more unemployed people than in any other American city:Take 22 percent of the population were without a fixed location. What can mean in Detroit also: Without access to healthy food. The food chain in the city is torn.

Vitamin syringe against the food desert

In 2007 said goodbye with Farmer Jack the last major supermarket chain from the depopulated city. Anyone who lives in Detroit and wants to buy food, since often has only the choice between what the next gas station is available – donuts, frozen pizza, maybe a couple of apples – or one of the many fast food restaurants.

“When it came down to the city, the family threw their tables away,” says Spivey. The late nineties a quarter of the population lived below the poverty line. “Who does not know how he will pay for his food, does not think about healthy nutrition.” The Franciscans saw that Detroit in afood desert, a food desert, transformed. In 1997, Brother Rick Samyn planted a small garden at the soup kitchen – the cornerstone of today’s Earthworks Farm.

community gardens in detroitThe farm was not the only garden project in the city. The conversion of Detroit in farmland began initially as unnoticed as once the decay. Between Dearborn in the southwest and in the Northeast today Macomb separate carefully raked beds the Barrens of revitalized terrain. Before houses with boarded-up windows bamboo sticks stuck in the ground, as a support for the tomato, which will soon grow here. In the greenhouses of the Garden Resource Program Collaborative (GRPC), which also includes the Earthworks Farm belongs, moving fans cabbage and spinach seedlings with artificial wind. In a few weeks they will be planted on former factory sites or supermarket car parks into the freshly tilled earth.

The fruit and vegetable gardens are the vitamin injection that revives the ailing city. Whole 1234 private and nonprofit gardens thrive now under the protection of an umbrella organization founded in 2003 GRPC. There are constantly more. Last year, the collective over 55,000 free packs of seeds and more than 240,000 seedlings has distributed to the volunteers. Everyone can participate. You have to own land. Many gardens built on terrain to the can not look after or care of the actual owner. The recreational gardeners benefit in their efforts from the fertile soil of the city, the French settlers in the 18th century made arable – they have it only expose.

“Compost, compost much,” Spivey answers the question, what it takes to manage a fallow piece of land can. But that alone is not enough. In many of the neglected gardens, the former residents have parked their cars, before they left the city. Rust eats its way through the bodies. “Oil seeping over the years in the ground, can harm the soil,” says Katherine Alaimo, a nutritionist at the Michigan State University.

The University accompanied the GRPC scientific opinion. To ensure that the harvested carrots and beetroot are not full of pollutants that are taken soil samples in any garden that will participate from the garden program. Only then get the gardener seed, shall be authorized to harvest under the seal “Grown in Detroit” sell.

From May to November runs the collective a stand at the Eastern Market, a weekly market, in the next to fruit and vegetables and flowers and live roosters and hares are traded. The area around the Eastern Market has the charm of a district that is on the verge of turning into a trendy neighborhood. Opposite the market hall, at the Russell Street, signaling five gaudy painted doors that have settled here hip restaurants. The apple green façade belongs to the Russell Street Deli, an organic restaurant that serves an appetizing selection of vegetarian and vegan dishes. One of the two owners is Jason Murphy, a thirty-something who has worked his way up in his own words “from rags to partnership” of Delis. Murphy is one of the purchasers of the fruit and vegetables grown in community gardens in Detroit.

 Community gardens against fear

“In 2008, we started doing; increasingly buy from local suppliers to support the farmers here. For some we are the most important customers in the city.” Lettuce, spinach, or herbs belong to the Detroit ingredients, cooked with those in the Deli. However, only a small percentage of it comes from the community gardens: “About ten to 15 percent in the summer it is a little more..” Yet the income is not enough to maintain order restaurant operations can, says Murphy. “If I need green peppers, then 150 kilograms. Not 15.” The gardeners are, especially when they grow organic quality, too heavily dependent on the weather. When the worm pounce over the salad, shrinking the harvest overnight.

So far enough what the small and large gardens in Detroit produce, not to meet the demand for vegetables and fruits of the inhabitants. With the right support and training, with greenhouses and storage facilities, the city, however, could be almost self-sufficient. According to a study by Michigan State University more than 14.4 square kilometers would be required under optimized conditions, to cover 76 percent of demand for vegetables and 42 percent of fruits. Some 20 square kilometers of land in the city are still unused, according to the same study. The GRPC helps the gardener ends residents already offers free cookery courses and courses for stockpiling it to process their income so that they deliver as pasta sauces, chutneys or pickles in winter gardens in Detroit

“The gardens not only provide food. They beautify the neighborhood,” says the nutritionist Alaimo. “There are places where people feel safe.” Alaimo has investigated, as a district and the people who live there are changing, as soon as there is a community garden is created. “I was able to prove that the people who take part in the gardening feel more comfortable in their neighborhood,” she says. When rakes and casting to get from this week. “You get to know yourself.” Who has contact with its neighbors, know to whom they can turn when they need help, for example, while shopping. But even if the two men who are just trying to short-circuit the car on the street, whose owners are.

The former police chief from Detroit, Ella Bully-Cummings to have said:“The community gardens have helped to reduce the crime rate.” Relevant studies to does not exist. The fact that the participating gardeners perceive their neighborhood as beautiful and safe, but is detected. “You have less fear of crime,” says the nutritionist Alaimo. Sometimes that’s enough. Only people who are not afraid to go outside, have the chance to change something in their neighborhood. 

Spivey, the man from the soup kitchen queue, still has about yourself smile when “we” instead of saying “I”. For him, that was the biggest hurdle: to understand when working as a volunteer on the Earthworks Farm as part of a community. Since last year, he’s there permanently employed. Nevertheless, he has also created a small garden at home.”Grow my own food gives me the feeling to be independent.”

We hope for better things. The motto of Detroit’s has nothing to do with home-grown vegetables. It dates from the time after the great fire of 1805. Nevertheless, it fits. Just like the second set on the flag: resurgent Cineribus. You will rise from the ashes. Hope alone will not suffice. But with thousands of rakes and shovels can circulate a lot.