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House & garden

Grocerís garden

MT photo: Dave Krieger
Detroit: Empty lots could mean lots to eat.
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Published 8/3/2005

There are reasons to move to Detroit. Cheap rent. Houses on lots big enough for small farms, minutes from downtown. But not grocery shopping.

Throughout Detroit, grocery shopping for the most part is deplorable. Corner stores are stocked with packaged, hydrogenated and processed foods, sugar drinks, salt, booze and canned wieners — expired wieners at that. If you intend to be obese, diabetic or simply lethargic, the selection is fantastic.

In southwest Detroit, many Latino markets offer fresh vegetables, fruits, meats and baked goods, and Eastern Market is a mother lode of good eats. But live anywhere else and you’re out of luck — unless you like to drive to shop. Or have a community garden.

Enterprising Detroiters are taking advantage of the city’s estimated 40,000 vacant lots to return to the ancient practice of growing their own food. The city’s garden network has doubled in the last two years, and today 77 community gardens participate in the Detroit Garden Resource Program. It’s run by four groups: The Greening of Detroit, the Detroit Agricultural Network, Michigan State Extension and Earthworks Gardens at the Capuchin Soup Kitchen.

What a deal: Communities pay $20, and individuals $10, in return for hundreds of dollars’ worth of vegetable plants and seeds, flowers, compost and other supplies, everything needed to start a productive food garden. As part of the deal, participants must involve themselves in one activity a year. The garden network provides a series of urban gardening classes, volunteering opportunities and events such as potlucks.

The value of urban gardening can be seen at the Rosary Community Garden off Woodward Avenue. Sister Joan Baustian operates the garden with the help of neighborhood kids. With no grocery store in walking distance, the garden provides eggplant, mustard greens, tomatoes, squash, onions, cabbage and a load of other veggies to six large neighborhood families.

Terri Reese, 50, works the garden every day. “I’m from Nashville, Tenn., a big family. That’s how we ate,” Reese says. “This garden keeps me going.”

Then there’s the former dump site at John R and Alger streets. When prostitutes started using the lot to turn tricks, the community decided to put a stop to it. Now the lot is a lovely garden with a stone pathway and benches, flowers and shrubs, and is credited with raising property values nearby.

“We’re here sometimes chillin’ with our lady friends,” says Rodrick Grant, 19, obviously proud of his block’s garden. “We play our part in keeping it up.”


Urban Garden Tour on Wed., Aug. 10, 5:30-7:30 p.m. Check in at 4:30 p.m. at the 4-H center at 5710 McClellan St., Detroit. Call Ashley at 313-237-8736. A potluck follows.

Lisa M. Collins is a freelance writer. Send comments to

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