Garden Resource Program Collaborative
The Greening of Detroit
Ashley Atkinson is no stranger to getting her hands dirty. For 12 years now, since the young age of 19, she has been a part of developing what is now the Garden Resource Program Collaborative in Detroit. Originally from the north side of Flint, the Director of Urban Agriculture watched lots around her hometown become empty dirt patches. What better to do with vacant land than start a garden patch? With a high return rate and 45 percent growth each year, the Collaborative has been making great use of soil in the city. Atkinson took time to explain the importance of the Collaborative to RDW and how we can support local farmers by purchasing their produce at various locations in Detroit:
Tell us about the Detroit Urban Gardens Program.
I work for an organization called the Greening of Detroit; I am the Director of Urban Agriculture and we are a partner in the Garden Resource Program Collaborative. The other key partners are Earth Works, Urban Farm (which is part of the Capuchin Soup Kitchen), Detroit Agriculture Network and Michigan State University. Together we created the Garden Resource Program Collaborative in 2003 and essentially [we] provide resources, support and community connections to families, schools and community gardens throughout Detroit, Hamtramck and Highland Park. In 2003, we started off with 80 total gardens — 41 family gardens and 39 community and school gardens — and this year we broke 800 gardens, just six years later.
That’s great. What type of crops do these gardens grow?
Well more than 40 types of fruits and vegetables, which is really kind of strange for most community gardening programs across the country because it’s so diverse. We grow everything from our cold crops like arugula, chard, lettuces and collards and kale, and rutabaga, pac choy, and hot crops like tomatoes, peppers, ground cherries, all kinds of squash. You name it, we grow it. And we also grow a lot of perennial varieties — we have a lot of fruit trees, we do berries, we do asparagus, rhubarb, strawberries, lots of things.
How many people do you feed a year?
We have very astringent evaluation measures and we capture that information every year. We haven’t run the numbers for this year, but the projected numbers are about 11,000 people this year.
Who consumes all of this food?
The primary place where the food goes is household consumption. Then we have almost 10 percent of our gardens participating in our cooperative which is selling vegetables, and those are sold at farmers markets and restaurants around the city.
If someone wants to volunteer, how can they get in touch?
All through the growing season we have a campaign called “Dig In, Detroit” where we pair individual and volunteer groups to community gardens that need a little extra help or have a major expansion or project planned. You would just need to contact the office and we can connect them.
Any last words?
For your readership, it’s important to plug, buy and grow in Detroit, so look for the Grown in Detroit brand, which is all our gardeners at Eastern Market, and support [it]. There are a lot of other farmers markets, they are all on [our] website, and then support the restaurants that have the Grown in Detroit label on their menus or in their stores. | RDW
Let it grow: detroitagriculture.org
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