My wife leased a garden last month. Not a car or an apartment or a tuxedo, but a garden. I had no idea that gardens were even in the realm of leasing possibilities. And yet, we have a garden for the season: a small bed constructed of 2x4s, filled to the brim with soil and peppered with tomato plants, cucumbers, carrots, onions and, well, peppers. The gardens are championed by SEED Wayne, a local organization focused on promoting sustainable food systems, access to healthy foods and agricultural education at Wayne State University and the surrounding community.
I sat down with Kami Pothukuchi, founder and director of SEED Wayne, to learn more about the urban gardens that are popping up around the community. Pothukuchi explained that the gardens are only a single facet of SEED Wayne; the umbrella of their organization also covers the Wayne State Farmers Market, as well as educational classes that teach community members about nutrition and even how to cook with produce. “Food and agriculture are an important part of our lives and our communities’ lives,” said Pothukuchi. “People have to eat, people have to care where their food comes from, people have to make sure that healthy food is available and affordable. And we’re essentially part of a network that’s making that happen in the city.”
Before SEED Wayne launched in 2008, “There were already people doing food organizing and planning at a grassroots level, but not necessarily from a planning perspective,” said Pothukuchi. Pothukuchi, who has a PHD in urban and regional planning, has used her experience to help establish a relationship between different vendors, community members, similar organizations and city officials to make SEED Wayne. Through this development, SEED Wayne has partnered with many organizations with similar goals, such as Keep Growing Detroit, Earthworks Urban Farm, the Capuchin Soup Kitchen and Eastern Market.
Students from Wayne State University also help keep these programs in working order. These young leaders come from a wide range of disciplines, whether it be nutrition, public health or even psychology, which is the case for Hope Morrow. Morrow’s primary responsibility is to facilitate the group working at the St. Andrews Garden, which includes managing the materials and tools needed for garden work. She also makes it a point to lend her advice to these budding gardeners. “I strive to make St. Andrews an educational experience,” says Morrow. “I schedule and give workshops on desired gardening and cooking related topics, and I encourage our gardeners from past seasons to teach us what they know.”
One of the most admirable aspects of SEED Wayne is that it’s not only giving community members and students access to healthy foods, it’s also incubating new leaders for Detroit’s agricultural future. “I was interested in SEED’s other projects, so I looked deeper into the organization and started volunteering at the WSU Farmers Market,” says Morrow. Her work has expanded to a leadership role at the St. Andrews gardens, where this year’s gardeners already have their seeds in the ground.
The Wayne State Farmers Market
Opening on the first Wednesday of June, the WSU Farmers Market will be selling fruits, vegetables, plants, honey and herbs, as well as a wide assortment of prepared foods. Whether you’re interested in having a lunch break with soup and a sandwich or you’re stocking your house with a week’s worth of produce, the Farmers Market is the place to be. SEED Wayne is also offers you the opportunity to buy local. “We don’t have any produce in our market that is not sourced within this bioregion,” said Pothukuchi. “Michigan is a huge food-producing state with the capacity and the resources to grow food.”
While one of the goals of the market is to provide healthy foods for the community, it also creates opportunities for local vendors and farmers. In order for it to truly work, the market must function as a business that yields capital for the producers. This is an important attribute at a time when the majority of Detroit’s food comes from far corners of the nation and the earth. As Pothukuchi explains, “More and more we are relying on distant sources, and we’re discovering that those sources are fragile because of the environmental changes that are coming into place.” By supporting a community that is dedicated to healthy local foods, SEED Wayne is taking a large leap toward sustainability, as well as supporting the local economy.
The WSU Farmers Market will accept cash, Bridge Cards, WIC Senior Market FRESH and WIC Project FRESH benefits. What’s more, the market will continue to match Bridge Card Benefits with Double Up Food Bucks, which was arranged by Fair Food Network, a sponsor of SEED Wayne.
The Farmers Market is going to be moving locations this year to accommodate the Phase III construction of the Midtown Loop. Starting in June, the market will be taking root at 5401 Cass Avenue, which is about a half block north of its current a location.
A Farm in Your Backyard
Living in Detroit, it’s easy to convince ourselves that fruits and vegetables can only be found in the aisles of a grocery store. But organizations like SEED Wayne are turning that idea on its head, showing that produce can also be grown within the concrete jungle. This can come in all shapes and sizes, whether that means a rooftop garden, a bed in your backyard or even a small window plot.
SEED Wayne currently has three gardens on campus, including the St. Andrew’s Garden, a rooftop garden and the Warrior Garden, which is mostly led by WSU honors students. For Detroiters who are interested in starting their own urban gardens, Morrow suggests that you “take advantage of wonderful programs within the direct Detroit area. Be determined and assemble a group with specific tasks in mind. There is no limit to what you can accomplish.”
For more information about what’s happening at SEED Wayne, check out the new projects on their website. Detroit is booming with urban agriculture, so slip on some gloves, pull out a trowel and get to the gardens. I’m sure I’ll see you there.