Excerpts from a June 2015 Interview with Keep Growing Detroit Co-Director Ashley Atkinson.
Keep Growing Detroit runs the Garden Resource Program to help fulfill their mission to promote a food sovereign city, where the majority of fruits and vegetables Detroiters consume are grown by residents and within the city’s limits.
What does the Garden Resource Program do?
The Program serves family, school, community, and market gardens all across the city. It provides the gardens with seeds, transplants, and the resources to succeed. Right now, about 20,000 people are involved in the Garden Resource Program, and dedicated residents and community leaders support 1400 gardens in every neighborhood in Detroit.
When was the Garden Resource Program started, and how has it grown?
The Garden Resource Program began way back in 2003 as part of the Detroit Agriculture Network. The Program has seen tremendous growth in the past decade. It is actually more of a return to the city’s roots. Growing food has always been present in Detroit, so this revisiting the city’s long history with growing food.
What do you think this growth in community gardens and the Garden Resource Program says about residents, neighborhoods, or the city in general?
I think it is just a reflection of people finding value in open space and vacant land. Making space available – large or small – to grow food can really contribute to more resilient, stable communities and a high quality of life.
How can the average resident benefit from the Garden Resource Program?
Anyone – regardless of skill level – can benefit from gardening. The Program itself provides all the seeds and vegetable transplants the average grower would need for just a nominal fee. Participants have access to high quality, diverse, and affordable resources, including over 70 varieties of fruits and vegetables. The Garden Resource Program also provides an education series to help all gardeners along the way.
Is the lack of prior experience the biggest deterrent residents face when considering the Garden Resource Program?
That is definitely the biggest deterrent. But it’s also kind of a myth. The truth is that even lifelong gardeners keep learning every day. There is never a bad time or place to start; you really just have to go for it. What’s also great about gardening is that it is very accessible. It has few barriers to start and requires little time and resources to transform a space. Even with very limited resources and experience, a vacant lot can easily be transformed by a dedicated group of people in literally one afternoon.
What do you see as the future for the Garden Resource Program and community gardens throughout the city?
I think we will continue to see more gardens spring up all the time. As for the Garden Resource Program, I see that growing tenfold in order to accommodate hundreds more gardens and residents participating. We really must not slow down in pursuit of our mission of a food sovereign City of Detroit.