Urban Farming
Aug 23. 2011

North Cass Community garden in Detroit – organic pick-up

by Hélène

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Last Sunday, our new friend Dave took us around his neighborhood. Dave, in his early 40s, is originally from metro Detroit. After having studied and worked abroad, he moved back to his home area and was offered a position at the University of Detroit Mercy. Dave’s been living in Woodbridge for the past year and a half. Yes, his car’s tires got stolen once - but Woodbridge’s police patrol called him the morning after to let him know that they caught the guy and found the tires. Dave isn’t worried for his safety in this part of town, one of the greenest and nicest Detroit neigborhoods. In fact, Dave feels it’s a great place for his 18-month old son, Liam, and he’s already planning on sending him to a school in the area.

Right at the corner of Second Avenue and Willis Street (in Midtown), North Cass has 75 lots (of 1m20 - 2m40 / 4-foot-by-8-foot). It is run by UCCA, a local Midtown organization.

It was important for Dave to be involved in the Detroit community. The best way, for him, was through urban farming. Although Dave has a backyard, he chose to become a member of the North Cass community garden to grow food. For $25/year, anyone can get access to one of the raised bedsand grow whichever crop they like. The only condition to make sure to get your membership renewed is to do 4 hours/year of community service in the garden.

“There’s always lots of Detroiters working on their plot here on Saturdays; it’s great to chat with them and exchange advice on how to grow food better. You get to know new people.”

Little Liam running on grass and picking cherry tomatoes. Community gardens are great for adults and children alike.

Started in 2009, North Cass could be called a “beautification project,” although it’s one of the rare gardens of Detroit circled by a fence. Not so surprising: a few feet away is the “Tomboy Markets” which used to be a Midtown hangout for the bad boys of the “Cass corridor.” Dave told us that some people go over the fence to pick food from the garden… although there’s a box at the entrance with free veggies (when there is any left!). Local restaurants around the block such as Traffic Jam&Snug, Mario’s and Majestic Café have their own plot to grow their own greens. The bar/pizzeria Motor City Brewing Works even grew pumpkins there and made its own beer from it last Summer. There is like a tasty revolution going on in Detroit’s kitchens… But there is a but. In some unique way, Detroit -the food desert- has become to some extent a food paradise, as very few cities in the world give such a direct” and affordable access to fresh, organic food on a grassroots level. Today a couple of urban farms, eateries and bakeries pride themselves to serve products under the “Grown In Detroit” banner. But if you go to the very few supermarkets left in urban Detroit, such as Honey Bee in Corktown, a Detroit neighborhood which boast several urban gardens (including Brother Nature, one of the biggest urban farms in Motor City), all you’ll find are oranges from California, apples from New Zealand, and peppers from Mexico…

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