Growing Partners: The Greening of Detroit
This year we are excited to launch Growing Partners, a series of articles focusing on the farmers, gardeners, seed growers, breeders, vendors, donation recipients and non-profits we work with who are making waves in sustainable agriculture. Together they form a revolution of environmental stewardship and positive change working its way over the global landscape. We're so invigorated by their trail-blazing work every day, we want to share it with the world--and inspire the food movement leaders of tomorrow to follow in their footsteps.
To kick off the series, we're starting with a longtime High Mowing customer and non-profit, The Greening of Detroit. We wanted to let them speak for themselves about what they do and why, so we interviewed their Director of Urban Agriculture, Tepfirah Rushdan to get the lowdown.
HMOS: What is the mission of the Greening of Detroit? What makes it unique?
GD: The Greening of Detroit’s mission is to inspire sustainable growth of a healthy urban community through trees, green spaces, food, education, training and jobs. I think we are unique because all of our three field departments collaborate on various projects that collectively support the mission. These departments include Green Infrastructure, Workforce Development, and Urban Agriculture. We also are firmly grounded in community while also maintaining a higher vision to support policy and advocacy.
HMOS: Please tell us about the Greening of Detroit, including location, crops grown, land area in production, and how produce is distributed.
GD: The Greening manages three farm sites in Detroit:
Romanowski Farm Park is a two-acre farm inside of a 26-acre city park in the ethnically diverse southwest neighborhood of Detroit. It features an orchard with five different varieties of fruit in production, a community gardening area, and a butterfly garden.
The Detroit Market garden, a 2.5 acre farm situated in Detroit's Eastern Market District, is an example of intensive small-scale production site.
This farm garden features four hoop houses, a free-standing wash/pack and storage area, and access to Detroit's premier greenway called the Dequindre Cut.
Lafayette Greens, a 3/4 acre farm and greenspace, is located in the heart of downtown Detroit. This site was recently donated to the Greening of Detroit by the Compuware Corporation and features a children’s garden, a lavender promenade, trellised hardy kiwi, and a small heirloom apple orchard. Produce is aggregated from all three sites and sold in retail, wholesale, and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), markets as well as donated to many emergency food centers.
HMOS: What is the relationship between the Greening of Detroit and your local/regional community? What programs do you offer that foster this relationship?
GD: The Greening offers expertise and support to community members looking to create green spaces in their community. We support community efforts to repurpose vacant land in ways that improve quality of life in Detroit neighborhoods. We assist communities in developing neighborhood green plans that may include tree plantings, vacant land treatments, gardens, pocket parks, etc. We hold demonstration gardens with a variety of education classes and community events each year. In addition, we teach both environmental and nutrition education in dozens of schools and housing sites throughout Detroit.
HMOS: How old is the Greening of Detroit? How would you describe its growth/expansion?
GD: The Greening is 25 years old. We began with three employees committed to planting trees in the city. Today we employ between 30 and 40 full-time employees and between 200 and 300 seasonal staff. The city of Detroit has more than 20 square miles of vacant land. Our scope continues to grow as the needs and focus of the city we serve evolves.
HMOS: What are some advantages of the area in which you are located? What are some disadvantages?
GD: Advantages are a robust urban environment (the people). We also have a unique opportunity to transform the city into a cleaner, greener, healthy urban center because of all the vacant land. The disadvantages are the increased pollution in soils and air.
HMOS: What is a major challenge you have faced as an organization, and how did you overcome it?
GD: A major challenge for The Greening of Detroit is funding. This is not unique to The Greening, as all nonprofit organizations struggle with inadequate funding. Many grants are annual or one-time only, and this is disruptive to the continuity of programming. The Greening of Detroit has a complicated funding mix, and is always trying to provide and measure community impact. Unrestricted funding would allow us to strengthen measurement, evaluation and community impact but this type of funding is very difficult to obtain. This is a common challenge for all organizations in the nonprofit sector.
HMOS: What resources have been important to your success as an organization? What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
GD: Funding is of course essential to our work. In addition, we hire talented, educated people to champion our mission. Collaboration is also very important to our successes, as well as sweat equity from our volunteers.
HMOS: What High Mowing varieties perform best in your area? (And tell us why if you know). Are there any special techniques you use?
GD: We have had success with all varieties purchased from your catalog, along with a satisfying germination rate. We believe in building and maintaining healthy living soil for success. Our City is extremely diverse in their interests and food choices, so we have chosen to explore the possibility of implementing at least two to five new varieties each year from your catalog.
HMOS: What are your goals for the future of the Greening of Detroit?
GD: We hope to continue to be a catalyst for environmental stewardship in Detroit, and desire to pass on farming skills to the next generation. We are committed to assisting Detroiters in becoming healthier, self-sufficient, and more knowledgeable about the food options in their community.