S’Mores in Brightmoor! Detroit’s urban farming delights
The sun’s going down and I’m sitting on the October wet grass of Brightmoor, in Detroit Westside. It’s a bonfire night following a new harvest festival. Kids are showing me how to make “S’mores.” What I remember from an American cartoon I saw 20 years ago doesn’t give me any clue on how to avoid looking stupid with my flaming stick. My young friend turns to me, very solemn: ‘you pin the marshmallow, make it burn ’til it’s all dark then you blow the flame away. Got it?’ My first ever grilled marshmallow comes out well. She’s proud of me, I’m proud of myself. I know nothing about this girl. I wonder in what kind of house she lives in and whether she even goes to school… but no matter what, we’re sharing emotions and knowledge. That’s what I like about Detroit.
It’s getting chilly. Soon, the kids’ parents and friends join us around the fire. They’re all very young. Black and white, here’s a racial mixity we’ve rarely seen in Detroit before. They ask us what we’re doing in the neighborhood: we talk about our interactive documentary project and everybody’s listening, almost religiously. In front of me, the boisterous lil’ Zack is also busy grilling around the fire. Zack moved to Brightmoor with his parents less than 2 years ago, he goes to the local school. His father is joking with his friends over the local hotdog store they want us to try next time we come. We ask if there’s also a bar around here. They keep on laughing at us: “not any we’d recommend!.”
Zack’s parents plan to make their living off farming on the house’s garden, applying principles of permaculture. It looks like they could easily make it. In only a couple of months, they manage to grow a bounty of herbs and veggies. They wanted to be part of the local community and moved to a neighborhood that many consider as one of the most blighted areas of Detroit. Yes, in Brightmoor, there are burned down houses at (almost) every corner. Foreclosures and “crack houses” are part of the landscape… Yet the “Brightmoorers” don’t think about it everyday. Zack’s young uncle visits often: he’s dying to move here too, hoping to be able to buy the house next door to Zack’s, where he’d share the garden with his family. Jacob grew up in Brightmoor. He left but came back. He just loves his green neighborhood, full of trees and right next to a forest. A couple of blocks away, that’s where Bill and Billie live; in their 60′s, they also moved in recently, from another Detroit neighborhood. They wanted to live a more sustainable life; they didn’t need 2,5 bathrooms for the two of them. They started a community garden their young neighbors gladly come to work on.
All of these newcomers are inspired by Riet. She’s a fearless Dutch woman, and as such, was one of the first “transplants” to move to Brightmoor. When she got here in 2006, she says she could see prostitutes standing in her street, and drug dealers. With the help of the community, she started most of the cultivated plots one can now see in Brightmoor. Today Riet even has two goats, which the kids love to come pet. This neighborhood simply blows my mind every time I go there. From Lamphere street to Acacia avec, it’s all community gardens, flowers, hives, colorful boarded up houses, murals and even a brand new playground. Another example of how powerful Detroiters can be when putting together resources, energy and their unique sense of community… I can’t wait for next Summer. To view more photos from the Brightmoor Youth Garden, visit the Flick’r gallery, here.