Urban Farming
Sep 14. 2011

Georgia street – Detroit’s community garden of wonders

by Nora

Mark Covington has that kind of natural aura that keeps his memory engraved in yours. A Facebook message, an introduction through a friend: that’s all it took for Mark to welcome us in the “wild wild Eastside” of Detroit. This neighborhood, just south of the city airport (not the Wayne Metro one), not far from Gratiot, doesn’t get that many recommendations from outsiders. Here, gunshots sometimes travel even faster than light… Key personality of Georgia street, Mark managed to build a community garden here in less than 3 years, including a greenhouse and even a bunch of chickens, a cock, a goat and ducks. Mark has always been living down Georgia street, surrounded by his relatives. Everybody knows and greets Mark in the area: this warm August morning was no exception to the rule. Time for Mark to feed the chickens… and tell us his story. “It all started when I got fired from the company I was working for, back in December 2007. At that time I had a decent wage ($14/hour). But my job was tough; I had to clean contaminated containers… One day, I refused to do a real risky job. I complained and the next morning, I was no longer on the schedule… I got fired for safety issues… This is how I ended up being unemployed in the middle of Detroit Winter.” “I’d stare at the garbage stacking in the empty lot in front of my house. I told myself I’d get rid of it by the coming spring. That’s how I started the garden. It got ready by April 2008. After that, things went very fast. I joined the garden resource program and discovered a world I knew nothing about. For $20 a year, I get a large number of seeds and transplants. You can also get all these trainings meant for urban gardeners… This is how I learnt everything, as well as right here, in my garden!” “Today I got about 40 chickens here. I’m planning to extend the farm; I want a female goat, I only got one male and I’m looking forward to making my own cheese! In theory you can’t have farm (and have farm animals) in Detroit… But down the street, there are only four inhabited houses and my neighbors never complained about my animals… children love them!” This advocate of organic community gardeningregularly organizes workshops (last one was about how to make your own preserves) and even prayers… Just next to the garden, Mark recently inaugurated a community center where kids can come after school to do their homework or learn how to use the computer. “Kids are very involved with the garden too. I started working with the neighborhood school. They now have gardening classes here at Georgia street.

It’s funny at first, kids were not really thrilled. They found gardening lacked action, it has nothing to do with TV! It’s so slow! But when they saw their first seeds germinating and growing, they all got very excited!

And they love the taste of real vegetables! I also received 26 donated fruit trees but we still have to wait a bit for the fruits. With the kids and a couple of volunteers, we also painted murals and picnic tables”. As we were leaving him, Mark was about to install computers for the children of the neighborhood. “Children will be able to come here after school, to learn how to use a computer… Everything’s almost ready, I’m gonna install the softwares today. Yesterday, I went to pick little desks for the kids, a non-profit donated them all to me; I was driving on the freeway and one of the tables fell right on the middle of the lanes… fortunately, there’s little traffic in the morning in Detroit…” Thanks to a single garden that anyone can access and pick from, Mark has changed the face of his neighborhood. Georgia Street seems at peace and beautified since green thumbs started to cultivate the land. And it’s only the beginning! Mark has already in mind to rehabilitate several run-down houses in his block. Today, Mark’s still wearing his old environmental maintenance company’s t-shirt, but only when he’s out growing the garden…