When Does Spring Start?

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When does spring start?  Does it start when “Punxsutawney Phil‘s shadow” says it does?  Or maybe it is when pitchers and catchers report for “spring” training?  Or maybe it is something that happens after the end of “March Madness” and right before you notice how dirty the outside windows are around the house?  Is it “Flower Day” at Detroit’s Eastern Market?

If you are a urban farmer/gardener spring probably arrives for you around the time you start to count your seeds from last year, ordering this year’s seeds and upon their arrival…plant them in little peat pods and turn every available sunlit space into a greenhouse of sorts.

You label and date when you started each seed and of course you, “over plan”.  You know not every seed you plant will come up so you might as well plan for that right out of the gate.  Last year I restarted my pepper plants about 4 times before I got a group that was hardy enough to ultimately get planted.  It was the same for my tomato plants too.  As it is with most things, the more you put into it up front…the easier it becomes as things move along. 

I would be very interested in knowing when you intend to start your garden, what you are planting and what special tricks you may have that always guarantee for you a good crop. 

In 2011, I also have the benefit of The Greening of Detroit Program.  Last year, I was virtually on my own until I went to the first group meeting.  This year, I have already received their newsletter sharing important details as for what I should be doing now to ensure a successful and productive garden.  What is really good about the support program that they provide is that they disseminate the information in a way or style that makes it easy for the beginner to understand and is not offensive to those with more experience.  They have a calendar of events that lets you know when to pick up your seeds, begin to prep/compost the garden, start your seeds and how to prepare the young shoots for outdoors and placement in the garden.  Day-to-Day…weekly, monthly and seasonal direction and support.  The assistance that they provide is very timely and goes a long way towards fulfilling the dreams and plans of the backyard farmer.

This leads me to a very important question and that is how do groups like The Greening of Detroit and places like Eastern Market do it?  How do they exist?  We understand and appreciate why they exist but that makes the question “how”  more difficult to answer and makes it even more important that we provide the right solution(s) when it is answered.

Both groups get by with the help of “friends”.  Their “friends” are the type of people that find it easy to give to something and not take anything back.  The type of people that look beyond a person’s faults and sees their needs.  The kind of people that would rather teach you how to fish than just give you one meal.  The amazing thing about some of these people…they are not neccesarily your neighbor next door, across the street or down the block.  They don’t happen to live around the corner either.  You don’t know them…nor do they know you.  It is not important to them that you do.  Knowing you won’t make them care a little bit more or work a little harder.  There’s a job that needs to get done and they just do it.  As a community we should try to embrace their spirit and find ways to add to their support.

It doesn’t take much to be a friend of the Greening of Detroit program.  It takes only $5.00 to become their friend.  I was surprised as to how little it took.  A contribution of this amount could fund 25% of a community garden‘s seeds and plants.  From my own perspective that would be 50% of my garden and I am on record here and everywhere about the yield/output from my garden.  I ate from my garden from May until November.  So talk about teaching a man to fish, right?

Becoming a “friend” of Detroit’s Eastern Market is a little more pricey.  Annual memberships start at $50.00 for individuals, $20.00 for seniors and $100.00 for families.  As a member you receive discounts from their participating retailers, a friends decal and a shopping bag.  Just their way of saying thanks for your contribution.

So, I would like to encourage anybody and everybody with the means to support community gardens and their local food co-operatives wherever they live.  In the United States more than 450 cities in 48 states have organized community garden programs.  In Detroit, there are over 1,200 gardens in the Garden Resource Program alone.  Detroit is leading the way and that is something we can be proud of.  You should also know that it is not just about writing a check, either.  They need hands…volunteers…bodies to get some of the work done.   For this, it doesn’t matter where you live…how old you are…your gender or your race.  Giving from the heart never does!

For more information (programs/events) on the The Greening of Detroit Program, please go to www.detroitagriculture.org or LindsayTurpin (lindsay_detroitagriculture@yahoo.com).  The main phone number is (313) 285-1249 and the office hours are Wednesdays 4 – 6 p.m. or Fridays 10 a.m. – 12 noon.  For volunteering, please contact Tepfirah Rushdan at (313) 237-8733 ext. 241 or Tepfirah.Rushdan@greeningofdetroit.com.  They are located at 1418 Michigan Avenue in Detroit.

For information on making a donation and/or participating in the events at Eastern Market, please go to www.detroiteasternmarket.com .  Their web site is easy to navigate and you will have no problem finding the necessary forms or directions for joining the fun.

Project Sweet Tomato is looking for volunteers for several community garden projects.  If you are interested, please contact Arthur Littsey/Nine Below Zero at (313) 369-1710 or email littsey.arthur@sbcglobal.net.


Upcoming Greening of Detroit Events


  • Feb. 5th – “Growing in the Winter Garden:  Using Quickhoops and Hoophouses”
  • Feb. 12th –  “Can” I Sell That?: The Cottage Food Bill: Selling Value Added Products
  • Feb. 15th – Garden Resource Program Citywide Potluck & 2011 Kick-off
  • Feb. 24th – Garden Oasis: How to Design Your Ideal Garden
  • Feb. 27th – Tool Sharpening & Cleaning with Janet Macunovich

Go to www.detroitagriculture.org for information on locations/dates/fees for these and other events.  Dates subject to change without notice.


The Legacy of Community Music

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This started out as a tribute to my sister who happens to play cello in a volunteer orchestra…The Detroit Medical Orchestra (DMO).  As a family, we have all performed in organized musical environments.  Though I was the only one that went on to play professionally, I, by my own definition, am not the most talented.  My oldest sister, the one that got us all started, has a wonderful voice and she plays violin, clarinet and guitar.  She was part of Cass Technical High School‘s music curriculum in the 60’s where she studied harp and piano too.  My oldest brother is amazing.  There is not an instrument on the planet that he hasn’t played and played well.  I can remember him lugging home first a string bass and then a tuba on several occasions “in the snow” when he was in junior high school.  His understanding of music from symphonic orchestration to hip-hop puts him in a class all by himself. 

The brother that is two years older than me plays flute, bass guitar and a little piano.  I, of course play guitar, but can also play clarinet (B-flat and alto) and viola.  You should not be surprised to read here that at one time my brothers and I were in a band together and yes, the Beatles were a major influence. 

I found out later in life that one of my youngest sisters has an incredible voice.  I missed her high school choir performances because I was on the road following my musical dream of being a “rock star”, but having had the opportunity to hear her “chirp” at some of our family gatherings has made me wish that I had been around to appreciate her talent and watch it develop over the years. 

Then there is the youngest, who after years of taking cello lessons has made the transition from perpetual student to “student-performer”, and is doing a good job of keeping the tradition alive. 

There are those that know my family and if they were to be reading this would say I have identified only six siblings, leaving out one sister.  So in a poor attempt to keep everybody happy, I will say that this sister, who is just after me in years…well, she can dance.  After all, somebody has to let us know if the tunes have a good beat, the words are meaningful and if it going to be a Top 10 hit or not.

Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, as a musical family, we were not all that unique.  There was music coming from everywhere.  There were many “Jacksons before the Jacksons”.  It made no difference if you were white or black, music, more than sports, was the tie that brought our communities together.  Many from my neighborhood went on to have respected musical careers…Kevin Toney, with the BlackByrds.  David Shields, who played bass for Bobby Womack and is the bass player on the iconic “Got To Be Real” by Cheryl Lynn.  Vaughn Klugh the cousin of Earl Klugh used to prowl the streets as a kid, challenging everybody with his guitar.  The vocal group, “Enchantment” and their band all went to high school with me.  The “Dramatics” went to school with my brother.  And who can forget Gino “Gino Is A Coward” Washington!  I know I have missed a few, but time and space dictates that I move on.  The point I am trying to make is that music played a part in the development of so many of the youth during that time and its role has not been diminished over the years.  That was what I witnessed at yesterday’s concert.

The performance that I saw yesterday was, as previously mentioned, by the DMO.  What is unique about this group of performers was that they are all professional medical people.  Though they have demanding jobs and schedules, they are very committed to playing music.  This is not a “pop” band.  The selections they have chosen to perform are some of the toughest pieces I have ever heard.  They have played works by Copeland, Dvorak, Sibelius and Schubert in their first two concerts…a very ambitious and aggressive start for an orchestra as young as this.  Founded by Pamella Abghari, M.D. and Michelle Ubels in 2009, they had their first performance in April 2010 and have plans to conduct two performances in 2011, with the first yesterday and the second on May 1st.

What is most compelling about this group and probably about community orchestra’s overall, is why they are doing it.  In this case, as it probably is with other groups, it goes beyond their love of music.  This is not a “quest for glory”.  They don’t need to be called “rock stars” (an overused term anyway).  Besides the emotional relief it gives them from their day-to-day existences, it has also given them the opportunity to yet make another contribution to the community and society at large.  Proceeds from their performances have gone to a few worthwhile causes, like, Children’s Hospital of Michigan.  Last night’s performance was on the behalf of S.A.Y., a charity that is focused on the needs and welfare of homeless women and their children. 

S.A.Y. (Super All Year Detroit) was formed by noted writer and radio personality Mitch Albom, inconjunction with the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries.  It is the “first ever free medical clinic devoted entirely to homeless children and mothers”. 

“Open 24/7, the clinic will provide maintenance and preventive healthcare, including immunization, diabetes screening, and blood pressure testing, and with special attention to their most common health problems.  The clinic will operate with a staff of nurse practitioners and on-call physicians including a pediatrics specialist, OB/GYN specialist, and a nutritionist.  Offering a wide range of health services, the clinic will accept walk-ins and run a pick-up service at several Detroit shelters.” 

It has been reported that music aids in the healing of the sick.  Here we are witness to it aiding the community as well.  So what’s the bottom line?  The bottom line is that this organization needs your support as probably do all of the community orchestras’ in our area.  They need your assistance so that they can continue to provide support to causes like the above and many others. 

Donations to the DMO will be accepted in the form of a check written to Wayne State University:

  • Musician’s Circle – Up to $99
  • Conductor’s Circle – $100 to $249
  • Concertmaster’s Circle – $250 and above

For further information, please contact the DMO at detroitmedorch@gmail.com


For my sister, who doesn’t want her name used in my blog, I would like to say we are all very proud to see you continue our musical legacy.  For the DMO, keep up the good work.  I intend to see and enjoy many of your concerts in the future.  For the other community bands in the area, may you all get the support you need from the communities that you perform for.  What you do is important  though, you may not get the recognition you richly deserve.  Lastly, to the people, please continue to attend these shows and supporting the causes that they represent.  Bring your children…tell your neighbors…for the legacy of community music goes beyond just playing music…it is about helping the community one performance at a time.

S.A.Y. Detroit Family Health Clinic is located at 211 Glendale in Highland Park, MI