Last Tuesday afternoon I witnessed an act that begs the question…“is it better to give or to receive?”

This question-leading act took place in the office of the principal of Detroit’s Remus Robinson Academy, Ms. Sharon Lee.  Beverly Outland, the Product Development Coordinator from Co-op Services Credit Union had just presented Principal Lee with a check for $1000.00 for her school garden, which is part of the urban garden program called Project Sweet Tomato.  In addition to the donation to the school, Ms. Outland was paying the administration fee for The Garden Resource Program and making an additional donation to the Greening of Detroit in the name of the school.  The look on the faces of these two ladies, one giving and the other receiving, was something special to behold.  If I didn’t already know who was doing what I would not have been able to tell.




Beverly Outland (l.), Principal Sharon Lee (r.)




Ms. Outland is an alumnus of the Detroit Public School System.  She went to Marshall Elementary, Nolan Junior High and Pershing High School.  She has a deep attachment to the neighborhood she grew up in and the city of Detroit and has spent much of her professional career finding ways to give back to the city and its communities.  She feels that she is extremely fortunate to be working for an organization that not only shares her beliefs but also promotes and supports her efforts and those of her fellow employees to make relevant contributions to society.  She gives…she receives!


What Co-op Services Credit Union understands is that you can’t fake your way into the hearts and minds of a community.  People know when a so-called “act of kindness” is nothing more than a publicity stunt.  A business writes a check and feels that their job is done…you never hear from or see them again.  That is until the next time they need a photo-op.  They know that communities, if they are going to survive and then thrive, are looking for a commitment.  They are looking for the type of commitment that reflects the depth of character, benevolent personality and sincere compassion of the company and that it, the commitment, will be there… everyday from sunrise to sunset.  To gain the respect of these people and ultimately their support in return you have to walk the walk while talking the talk.  In a variety of ways, Co-op Services Credit Union demonstrates that it is up to the task and by giving they ultimately will receive!




Principal Lee sharing the check with a classroom of kindergartners



As mentioned in an earlier blog, Co-op Services Credit Union, in addition toproviding support by sponsoring Project Sweet Tomato, intends to do the following for Remus Robinson Academy…


  • Introduce its Rock Star Savers program to the students of the school.  This program gives students the chance to open an account with the credit union with a $5.00 deposit that they will match with an additional $5.00.  Co-op Services Credit Union believes that it is very important to usher in the philosophy and discipline of proper money management at an early stage, giving these children lessons that they can carry forward for the rest of their lives.


  • Conduct financial literacy programs.  The purpose of these programs will be to break down the barriers to understanding banking that limit some teens, young adults and their parents in these fiscally difficult times.  It is their lack of understanding that keeps them in the cycle of bad financial decisions and non-productive lifestyles.  With the assistance and enthusiastic encouragement that is given sincerely by Co-op Services Credit Union these people will have a chance to change the paths that they are now on…moving from a world of futility to one that is filled with optimism and opportunity that they can truly embrace.


Can you imagine all of this happening just from the planting of one seed?  Co-op Services Credit Union, Principal Lee and the students of Remus Robinson Academy can!  So can you tell me what is better…giving or receiving?


To learn more about Project Sweet Tomato and other cause-related marketing programs contact Arthur Littsey/Nine Below Zero at or (313) 369-1710.


Magazine Reviews – March 2011


Since I started Project Sweet Tomato, a lot of people have brought to my attention magazines and news articles that in some way or another reflect the values of the program.  Today, I will provide you with an overview of a few magazines that that I feel are worthwhile reads.




This magazine goal is to “celebrate the abundance of Southeastern Michigan, season by season” and I must say that it does an excellent job of that.  Part of a network of publications that covers edible communities from Allegheny to Wasatch and several points in between, it connects the consumer with “family farmers, growers, chefs and food artisans of all kinds”.  Furthermore, they believe that every person has the right to affordable, fresh, beautiful food on a daily basis and that knowing where our food comes from is a “powerful thing”.  It is a for-profit, member-driven corporation, and the individuals that own the publications are local food advocates and residents of the communities they publish in.  They believe that this is a business model that not only supports their values, but also preserves the integrity of each member publication and the communities they serve.  Founded in 2002 by Tracey Ryder and Carole Topalian, it is “free” and published quarterly.  It has a combined (50 publications) readership of over 15 million readers.  It is filled with intelligent, entertaining stories, visually enticing stories and information that are “honest, compelling and relevant to their readers families, their communities and their lives”.


The Spring issue of edible WOW is all that and a bag of chips!  The three cover articles are called “Sundays In Birmingham”, “Gardening In The D” and “Michigan In A Bottle” and I must say that they are as promised intelligently written and highly entertaining.  Being an urban gardener, living in Detroit, I especially found the “Gardening In The D” article to be a well-written and very informative piece.  I had heard about the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (DBCFSN) but knew very little about it until I read the article.  The author did an excellent job of explaining the origin, purpose and goals of the group as well highlighting its impact on the people and the communities they serve.


In addition to the abovementioned articles there were features on a restaurant, food, recipes, and environmental issues.  They were all articulately written, impressively formatted and accompanied with pictures that if we were only talking about food, whispered, “taste me”.   I was almost compelled to lick the pages a couple of times!


All in all, I think that this magazine is definitely on my must-read list.  It has everything that I look for in a magazine, plus it is environmentally “P.C.” in that it is written on recycled stock.  Unfortunately I can’t tell you where to find it, which the only downside.  It does say that subscriptions are available, but even a trip to its website left me scratching my head.  Hopefully, you live where it can be easily found! /(248) 731-7578




Where Women Cook “The Heart & Soul of Cooking”



Does the world need another cooking magazine that is priced at $14.95 an issue and is focused exclusively on women?  Obviously, somebody thinks so and I tend to agree.  I really enjoyed reading the issue before me.  At 160 pages, the magazine is loaded with articles that present contemporary women that not only embrace traditional values of the past but also successfully merge them with present day life and experiences.


Where Women Cook is published by the Stampington & Company.  They write and publish 30 magazines that focus on the arts and craft industry.  It can be found in most major bookstores, crafting chains, upscale supermarkets and “hundreds” of independent arts and crafts stores.  It a quarterly and has a high quality look as far as its design, production, content and photography.  One thing I personally like about it is that it is printed right here by Quad Graphics in Midland, Michigan.


At first glance, I was very much inclined to put this magazine in the category that includes a variety of Martha Stewart publications like “M.S. Living” and “Real Simple”, but in actuality it operates in a realm that is very unique.   A closer look showed me that it is really about women whose business and life is about cooking.  We are talking about business owners that own bakeries, restaurants, artisans that love to cook, and farms.  Highly motivated women that are involved in the world, whether it be human rights or the environment.  Women that, in some small but unique way, are inspirational. 


It is also loaded with recipes!  The issue I have goes from the traditional like apple pie to visually stimulating salads to unique pastries and cakes to exotic entrees.  The pictorial presentation of the food from preparation to the table is so appealing it is almost breathtaking.  

In conclusion, I highly recommend this publication to anybody male or female that loves to cook.  I find that it more than lives up to its title and its mission.  I heartily give it two thumbs up!




Natural Home Living Wisely>>Living Well



The first thing I noticed about Natural Home was its advertising.  Unlike a lot of home environment/lifestyle publications this magazines’ ads do not look like the “I did it myself” advertisements that frequent most of these types of literature.  Not slick at all in appearance Natural Home has a warm and inviting look to it that takes a casual look at the organic lifestyle.

Like most publications it is broken into several categories/sections.  It has sections with articles that give advice “Make An Odd Space Livable”, on nourishment “Eat Well This Winter”, on your home “A Mold-free Home”, on inspiration “Living In A Virtual World”, and tips that are just plain good to know “Tips For A Healthy Night’s Sleep”.  This month’s feature article was “Sleep Well, the Natural Bedroom”, a simple photo story that highlighted fixtures and materials that could be used to “create a soothing, sensuous space” out of your bedroom.  For added value it included a resource list where you could purchase the featured items and many others.  Another plus was an article on urban gardening in which they listed the Top 10 Cities for this activity. 

Although it had the obligatory cooking recipes, clearly the focus of this publication is eco-friendly living.  With an editorial to advertising ratio that is probably at 85% to 15%, I think that this bi-monthly magazine with a cost of $5.99 per issue is a sound investment.

Before You Start…You Better Get “Physical”


Ah!  Saturday morning, the day before the first day of spring.  I got up feeling like I was 60 going on 30.  I read my morning paper while I ate a very satisfying breakfast that incorporated some frozen veggies from  last year’s garden.  I got a phone call from a gardening buddy who couldn’t wait to tell me that he had started his seeds the day before and that he had high hopes for his garden this year.  The fact that he had started the process now, in March, fueled his expectations and subsequent desire to get out and start working the soil too.  After all, the sun was shining…the temperature was rising and the ground was dry.  Not so surprisingly, his enthusiasm was contagious.  I looked out my office window and said to myself, “he was right!”  “Get out there and do some damage to the yard, after all you’ve got to start sometime.”


So I got dressed, gathered my tools and got out there.  Mmmmm!  I took a nice deep breath as I surveyed the yard.  Where do I start?  Well, the first thing I did was to take a look at the compost pile that I started last year.  Not much going on there, so I moved over to last year’s flowerbeds.  I thrusted my shovel in the ground and turned over a blade’s worth of dirt.  Now this was easy!  The dirt here was nice and soft, the shovel penetrated the ground with ease and I quickly turned the two beds over and even managed to expand them a bit. 


Feeling good, I looked at the main garden plot and decided that I should tackle this baby now…today.  Considering how easy it was to work the flowerbeds, this was going to be a breeze.  Halfway through the section I was turning over it hit me and hit me hard!  My back started to tighten up…my knees began to ache…my arms went limp…I was starting to sweat, profusely and I was feeling winded.  Lord, have mercy…was it a heart attack?  I had to sit down! 


Though it was nothing as serious as that, my body was letting me know that I was out of shape!  Not badly out of shape, but just bad enough to prevent me from being effective out in the yard.  Gardening is work.  It makes no difference if you are planting flowers or vegetables’ gardening is work and you need to practice certain habits if you intend to enjoy your time out in the yard.


So moving very slowly, I came into the house and went straight to my computer.  Even though my fingers felt like they were rigid with arthritis, I typed in the letters g-a-r-d-e-n-i-n-g-f-i-t-n-e-s-s-p-l-a-n.  Lo and behold, a program immediately came on my screen.  So with thanks to Mr. Jeffrey Restuccio, a nationally recognized author and speaker on the subject of gardening and exercise, I will share some of his advice with you.

 To get the most benefit of gardening and exercise he recommends that you follow his Aerobic Model”:

  1. Warm up your muscles before you garden for five to ten minutes.
  2. Stretch for five to ten minutes.  Yes, stretch before you garden!  Stretching will help relieve back strain and muscle soreness and avoid injury
  3. Garden using a variety of motions at a steady pace.  Plan out your gardening exercise session to include a variety of movements such as raking, mowing, weeding, pruning and digging and alternate between them often, every fifteen minutes, for example.  Here are six different motions or techniques to rake, hoe and weed:
    • Bend one leg, one knee down to the ground, keep the other foot flat. Use a hand tool.
    • Bend both legs and kneel on a soft pad.  Use a hand tool.
    • Squat with both feet flat on the ground.  Don’t do this if you have bad knees!
    • Lunge and Weed.  Using a hand weeder, lunge with one leg bent at the knee in front of you and one leg straight back.
    • Sit and Weed.  If your knees, feet or legs won’t permit much bending then sit and garden.  Exercise your arms and waist.  Use long handled tools.
    • Stand with knees bent and your back straight and rake in a broad, sweeping motion using your legs.  While raking or hoeing, use long handled tools so you won’t have to bend over to use them. 

Don’t bend from the back as you rake or hoe.  If you make just one change, this should be it.  Bend from the knees and use your legs, shoulders and arms in a rocking motion.  Also alternate your stance between right-handed and left-handed.  Alternating stance balances the muscles used.  These techniques require time and practice but after a period of seasons, years and decades it will become a natural part of your gardening routine.

Ideally, you should stretch again after you have thoroughly warmed up your muscles with fifteen to twenty minutes of steady raking, hoeing, weeding, planting or mowing.

Cool down after your gardening exercise session by walking, picking flowers or vegetables or just enjoying the fruits of your “exercise.”


For more information contact or look up the following:

News From The Greening of Detroit

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2011 GARDEN RESOURCE PROGRAM SEED DISTRIBUTIONS Spring is here! It’s seed distribution time for participants of the Garden Resource Program.    

  • Cluster 5: Thursday, March 17th,6-8 pm, American Indian Health and Family Services, 4880 Lawndale
  • Cluster 9: Saturday, March 19th, 10-12 pm, Adams Butzel Recreation Center, 10500 Lyndon
  • Cluster 4: Sunday, March 20th, 1-3 pm, Catherine Ferguson Academy, 2750 Selden
  • Cluster 1: Monday, March 21st, 5-7 pm, Davison Elementary School, 2800 E. Davison
  • Cluster 8: Monday, March 21st, 6-8 pm, Leland Baptist Church, 22420 Fenkell St.
  • Cluster 3: Tuesday, March 22nd, 6-8 pm, Georgia Street Community Center, 8902 Vinton at Georgia St.
  • Highland Park Cluster: Tuesday, March 22nd, 6-8pm, Focus Hope, 1355 Oakman
  • Cluster 10: Wednesday, March 23rd, 6-8pm, Gesu Church, 17180 Oak Dr.

Please feel free to attend the cluster seed distribution which is closest or most convenient for you. If you have not yet sent in your application, please feel free to bring it with you to the event rather than sending it in. If you miss the seed distributions, you will need to wait to pick up seeds at the cold crop distribution. 

Please contact Lindsay Turpin at 313-285-1249 or for more information.  

Volunteer with the Garden Resource Program!  

Looking to get involved? We still need a few more volunteers to help out at the seed distributions.  If you can join us to help gardeners pick out seeds and make things run smooth at the distributions,  please contact Tee at 313-237-8733 ext.241 or  

2011 GARDEN RESOURCE PROGRAM CLUSTER ADDITIONAL RESOURCE MEETINGS Please mark your calendar and join us at your Cluster’s Additional Resource Meeting in April. At this meeting, you’ll meet fellow cluster gardeners and learn about the great resources and opportunities available to participants in the Garden Resource Program.  

  • CLUSTER 1: Monday, April 11th, 5-7PM at Davison Elementary School, 2800 E. Davison
  • CLUSTER 3: Thursday, April 7th, 6-8PM at Genesis Lutheran Church, 7200 Mack at E. Grand Blvd
  • CLUSTER 4: Sunday, April 10th, 1-3PM at Catherine Ferguson Academy, 2750 Selden, north of MLK Blvd at Lawton
  • CLUSTER 5: Wednesday, April 6th, 5-7PM at American Indian Health and Family Services, 4880 Lawndale, south of Michigan Ave.
  • CLUSTER 8: Monday, April 4th, 6-8PM at Leland Baptist Church, 22420 Fenkell, west of Lahser
  • CLUSTER 9: Saturday, April 9th, 1-3PM at Adams Butzel Recreation Center, 10500 Lyndon, west of Wyoming
  • CLUSTER 10: Wednesday, April 6th, 6-8PM at Gesu Church, 17180 Oak Dr. at McNichols 
  • CLUSTER HIGHLAND PARK (HP): Monday, April 4th, 5-7PM at Focus Hope, 1355 Oakman, east of Linwood

Please contact Lindsay Turpin at 313-285-1249 or for more information.  

YOUTH GARDENING & NUTRITION EDUCATION COORDINATOR The Greening of Detroit is seeking a full-time Youth Gardening and Nutrition Education Program Coordinator to support school and community gardens working with youth, primarily in grades k-8. Support includes assisting with distribution of garden resources, garden design and planning, school/community outreach and engagement, and curriculum development and implementation. The Youth Gardening and Nutrition Education Program Coordinator works in our Urban Agriculture and Education Team and reports to the Director of Urban Agriculture and Openspace.For a full job description or more information, please contact Ashley Atkinson at or 313-237-8736 (email preferred if you have access)

Saturday, March 19th, Berry Beautiful: Growing Grapes and other Small Fruits, Catherine Ferguson Academy, 2750 Selden north of Martin Luther King east of I-96, 1-3PM Gorgeous grapes, rockin’ raspberries, bodacious blackberries – small fruits are tasty, highly nutritious and can be some of the easiest fruit to grow.  Learn from MSUE fruit specialist Bob Tritten who will share his skills on how to grow, prune and care for of these delicious delights.Upcoming classes:Thursday, March 31st, Growtown Before Motown: The History of Urban Agriculture in Detroit, Genesis Lutheran Church, 7200 Mack Ave at the corner of East Grand Blvd., 6-8PM Thursday, April 7th, Herbalicious!: Dividing and Propagating Perennial Herbs, Plum Street Market Garden, 2202 Third off of Plum St. between Third and Grand River, 6-8PM

Backyard Chicken Farmer Program at the Georgia Street Community Collective   (organized by community members Mark Covington & Deborah James) Backyard Chickens: Starting your own coop. Ever thought about raising your own backyard chickens? It really does not take much space or time. There are a variety of reasons to keep chickens in urban environments. This class will be a hands-on experience. Allowing participants (ages 8 and older, minor’s must be accompanied by an adult.) to start their own backyard chicken coops this summer. We will meet once a month on Saturday’s from 1- 4pm starting in March-September. Those that attend this class will have the opportunity to order chicks that are sexed in small quantities, without worrying about minimums and shipping costs. For further information or to sign up for the class, contact Deborah James (313) 627-3482 or Mark Covington (313) 452-0684

YOU’RE INVITED TO FEAST WITH US!The FEAST program is kicking off their 2011 events with a FEAST dinner on March 26th, 5-7PM at Warren Conner Development Corporation, located at 11148 Harper Ave.  The FEAST crew would like to invite young people between the ages of 14-21 to join us for a delicious meal and inspiring conversation. All guests must RSVP to Eitan Sussman at 313.237.8733 ext. 236 or Please contact Eitan Sussman for more information.FEAST is a program that works with youth to plan, organize, promote, and cook communal FEAST dinners for youth and adults across the city in 2011. We’ll look forward to sharing more exciting news and events from FEAST this season.



National Women’s History Month: The Story of “Mama Jazz” – Midge Ellis


March is National Women’s History Month and I thought that because of her local significance I would honor Ms. Midge Ellis.  Perhaps you’ve never heard of Ms. Ellis but are very much aware of some of the things she has accomplished.  Midge is one of the founders of the DetroitMontreux Jazz Festival, ran a very popular big band jazz series for the Clarenceville school district for 20 years and is the current producer of the Michigan Jazz Festival.  Though she has worked mostly behind the scenes, jazz fans and musicians know her by name and by the nickname given to her by popular Detroit Free Press columnist, the late Bob Talbert, “Mama Jazz”.

Midge grew up in Corbin, Kentucky, fifty miles from Tennessee and fifty miles from Virginia and as she puts it “the middle of nowhere”.  Her father was a jazz buff and made sure that all of his children listened to and appreciated jazz music.  Never in her wildest dreams did she ever think that one day she would know or hobnob with some of our great national artists.  She would listen to music on an old Atwater Kent radio while sitting on her father’s lap.  On many Saturday nights she would be allowed to stay up so that she could hear broadcasts from cities as far away as Cincinnati, New Orleans and even here in Detroit (I wonder what station that was), over clear-channel stations.

As an adult, she later traveled to the jazz Mecca, New Orleans, where she met some of the bandleaders she had listened to in her youth at the Blue Room in the Roosevelt Hotel.  It was here the foundation was laid for her career as a booking agent, where she hired these bands for country clubs in Mississippi and Louisiana.  Undoubtedly, her love and knowledge of this art form and her subsequent experiences have provided her with some great stories!

In the early 1960’s, Midge moved to the Detroit area where her love affair with jazz continued and provided her the opportunities for what maybe her greatest contributions to jazz and the state of Michigan.  The first was her involvement with the Clarenceville School District series of jazz concerts during the 70’s and 80’s.  The story goes that when the school was looking for something to bring into the new L.E. Schmidt Auditorium in Livonia, it was Midge that suggested that they bring in jazz and big band music.  The first band that was booked was the great drummer Buddy Rich, who performed for the now unheard of fee of $1,700 for a musician of his stature.  Subsequently, she brought in the likes of Count Basie, Gene Krupa, Stan Kenton, Don Ellis (no relation), Maynard Ferguson, Chuck Mangione and many others.  A component of every concert and festival was the performance of young people in jazz studies programs.

Another significant contribution was organizing the Michigan Jazz Festival.  In 1996, two big band leaders, John Trudell and Emil Moro, felt that Michigan deserved a jazz festival that focused on our great local talent.  The concept of the Michigan Jazz Festival would be to “showcase local talent and offer it at no charge, thereby exposing young musicians to the music and take it into the schools whenever possible.  There were plenty of musicians that were willing to play for union scale in the hope of furthering the reach and appreciation of our “national art form”.  Midge and an associate, Eileen Standley were asked to bring their organizational skills to the event and the festival was moved from its first location “Freedom Hill” to the historic “Botsford Inn”, where it grew continuously for four years.  The Inn was sold to Botsford Hospital and the festival eventually settled in 1999 at Schoolcraft College where it continues today. 

I am one of many that would say that the Detroit – Montreux Jazz Festival is her greatest contribution.  A friend filled me in on the history: Don Lupp, the director of jazz studies at Henry Ford Community College, had been taking his students to Montreaux, Switzerland to perform in their jazz festival before he was hired by Wayne State University.  He asked Midge to travel as the “band mother” to keep an eye on his WSU students.  Through her association with Don, Midge and high-profile citizens that included Chuck Muer, Alan Lichtenstein and Clarence Baker were on the original committee that worked with Claude Knobbs and Michele Ferla (both with the original Montreux Festival) to put on this great event that was sanctioned by then mayor, Coleman A. Young.  This annual international jazz festival is in its 32nd year and is the largest free jazz festival in North America.

So join me as I salute this humble lady from very modest means for her contributions to jazz music and musicians nationally and most importantly locally.  Though “she may not get around much anymore” her legacy is etched in stone and she is always on the tip of our tongues whenever we talk about jazz in Detroit and southeastern Michigan.  At 87 years of age, she remains active and essential to the local jazz community.

How important is the jazz festival to Detroiters?  Watch this:

Participation Is Mandatory


March 3, 2011 was the official launch of Project Sweet Tomato.  It was the day where, Beverly Outland/Co-op Services Credit Union and Principal Sharon Lee/Remus Robinson Academy, the two people most directly responsible for the ultimate success of the program, came together to discuss the plan for the community garden effort.  Before we actually sat down to go over the project, Ms. Outland and I had an opportunity to experience the dynamic that exists between Principal Lee and her students.  I don’t think that it would be an exaggeration to say that what we saw was totally unexpected.  Principal Lee enjoys a relationship with her students that I would like to believe is not unique in the Detroit school system.  Her passion…her compassion…her commitment to these kids is almost too hard to define or describe.  I couldn’t help but reflect to the time that I was in school and you either hated or feared (or both) your principal.  There was never the level of outreach that we observed on this day.  Our meeting was scheduled for 3:00 p.m., and as school was letting out for the day, we were privileged to see Principal Lee in action.  Principal Lee knew every student by his/her name, she has over 450, and their parents too!  Each student has a story and her involvement with all of them, individually and collectively, transcends what I previously thought was the standard relationship between administrator and student.  It would be very easy to accept what we read or hear about the dismal state of Detroit’s school program.  But having witnessed Principal Lee in action, one should have the feeling that as long as there are professionals like her, heading our schools, our children are safe, morally secure and in a position to learn.

Before our meeting actually started we were able to see that Principal Lee’s passion for the community garden effort, we were there to discuss, was not limited to just herself.  We were taken to a classroom filled with kindergartners, where she asked, by a show of hands which students were excited and happy to participate in the gardening project.  The eager to please youngsters, with their teacher beaming, reacted unanimously to the request and then in a spontaneous gesture one-by-one and then two-by-two, surrounded the principal, clutching her and expressing their love for her.  Things like this can’t be manufactured or forced, especially not by kids.  One can’t help but be affected by such genuine displays of love and respect.  

Once we sat down, we listened as Principal Lee related how important the community garden program was not only to the school but to the community as well.  She has a plan that will get every child…at every grade level involved.  Her plan calls for a school assembly to announce the program to her students.  Participation, in her words, is mandatory.  They have already taken steps to add it to the curriculum via an online program called Discovery Education.  She also intends to get the Local School Community Organization (LSCO), formerly called the PTA, involved as she feels that garden will need to be embraced by the surrounding neighborhood.  “The entire community needs this and will benefit from the program…not just the immediate student families”.   In her eyes, the school is the anchor in the community and through programs such as this, positive values and attributes can be reinforced or taught and that they will become the cornerstone of a potentially rewarding and successful lifestyle.  Participation is mandatory!

Co-op Services Credit Union, the project’s sponsor, has also gone beyond the basic script of the program by providing the following elements…

  • Making a donation to the school and to the Greening of Detroit organization, which will be used to buy necessary tools and additional supplies for the program.
  • Coordinate a “Financial Literacy/Member Recruitment Day” for the school and for the parents/residents living adjacent to the school
  • Execute their “RockStar” program, where any student can open an account for $5.00 and the credit union will match the amount.  This program has been recognized as a successful way to introduce children to the benefits of banking…saving and managing their money.  Remus Robinson Academy will be the first Detroit school in the program. 

This is my first attempt to partner a business with a school in a community-based effort.  Co-op Services Credit Union has taken a major step in providing their voice to a movement that has far-reaching implications.  In the words of Principal Lee, Project Sweet Tomato, with the financial and enthusiastic assistance of Co-op Services Credit Union, will teach her student’s very important lessons.  “It is important for a child to see how you can start with nothing and turn it into something.  Just by planting a seed and tending to it the right way…learning by going through the process…will be a totally different and significant experience.”  No doubt, that in today’s “ready-made world based on instant gratification”, this will be a very different but rewarding experience that will last a lifetime.

If you would like to volunteer to participate in Remus Robinson Academy’s Project Sweet Tomato community garden effort or start a garden project of your own, please contact Arthur Littsey/Nine Below Zero at (313) 369-1710 or via email  Show your support for a small program that can do a world of good.

The Benefits of Organic Food – Update March 29, 2011


Updated March 29, 2011 to add another voice to the discussion. See link to the article below: Are Fruits and Vegetables Getting Less Nutritious?


Last Memorial Day I was showing a friend my garden and she asked if there was anything that she could sample.  At the time the only thing that was ready were my radishes.  So I pulled one out of the ground for her, rinsed it off and gave it to her.  She bit into it and the expression on her face was sheer bliss!  She admitted that this was the very first time that she had ever had a vegetable right from the ground and the taste was fabulous.  It tasted far superior to the produce that she typically buys at her local supermarket.


Today, I got a question from a follower that asked if the soil in our community gardens was tested for toxins and chemicals, because she was concerned if the food was fit for human consumption.  Of course, I was able to assure her that it was tested and that we have a fine support system that is provided by our own Michigan State University.



To me, these two separate events are somewhat related because they create a forum on the topic of the health care benefits of organically grown food vs. “conventional” food that is readily available almost everywhere.


A growing number of consumers and especially those dealing with chronic illness are switching to organic food.  My garden is 100% organic and because of my diabetes and other health concerns, I believe that it is better for me.  There have been many discussions on the topic at several levels and food agencies around the world universally claim that there is no evidence of a nutritional difference.  I came upon an article by Shane Heaton (Organic Food News Quarterly) that more than suggests that a “more careful and thorough review of the science comparing organic and non-organic food reveals that, collectively, the available evidence does indeed support the consumer belief and claims by the organic industry that their food is safer, more nutritious, and better for you than non-organic food”.




Do organic crops, on average contain higher levels of trace minerals, vitamin C, and antioxidant phytonutrients?



Official food consumption tables, including data compiled by the US Department of Agriculture, reveal that since the 1940s the mineral levels in fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy have declined substantially in conventional foods.  Combine this with earlier (pre-ripened) picking, longer storage, and more processing of crops, it should not be surprising that we may be getting fewer nutrients in our food than we were 60 years ago.




The artificial fertilization associated with conventional crops produces lush growth by swelling produce with more water.  On a pound-for-pound basis, organic food has more “dry matter” (i.e. food).  Partly because of this (and for other reasons too), there are higher levels of nutrients in organic produce.  By eating organic food it may be easier to achieve the recommended daily allowances for certain nutrients that you may not get otherwise.

We can expect also that phytonutrients, many of which are antioxidants involved in the plant’s own defense system, will be higher in organic produce because crops rely more on their own defenses in the absence of regular applications of chemical pesticides.  Higher levels have so far been found of lycopene in organic tomatoes, polyphenois in organic potatoes, flavonols in organic apples, and resveratrol in organic red wines.  At the time Mr. Heaton’s article was published a recent review of the subject estimated that organic produce will tend to contain 10% to 50% higher phytonutrients than conventional produce.

What about pesticide residue?

It is regularly claimed by the mainstream food industry that pesticide residues in foods are known to be safe on the basis of total diet surveys that supposedly find the levels of pesticide residues in our foods to be very low and within acceptable safety limits.  But monitoring programs consistently show that around one in three non-organic food examples tested contains a variety of pesticide residues, with far lower levels being found in and on organic produce.  Conventional food proponents also claim that rigorous safety assessments show that pesticide residues are no threat to human health.  Yet consumers intuitively know this is false.



Many pesticide-residue safety levels are set for individual pesticides, but many samples of fresh produce carry multiple pesticide residues.  Rules often do not take into account the “cocktail effect” of combinations of pesticides in and on foods.  Research is emerging confirming the potential for such synergistic increases in toxicity of up to 100-fold, resulting in reproductive, immune and nervous system effects not expected from individual compounds acting alone.


 How does this affect our children?

Children’s immature and developing organs, brains and detoxification and immune systems, plus their larger intake of food per kilo of body weight, combine to make them even more susceptible to toxins than adults.  American toddlers eating mostly organic foods have been found to have less than one sixth the pesticide residues in their urine compared to children eating conventional foods, lowering their exposure from above to below recognized safety levels.


The 1998 landmark study, written by Elizabeth Gillette and published in the journal “Environmental Health Perspectives” showed how a combination of low-level environmental, household and dietary exposures caused subtle yet measurable developmental deficits in children.  The study found significant differences between two groups in both mental and motor abilities (with the children who were exposed to pesticides scoring at a much lower level), as well as an increase in aggressive behavior. 


And if you are a breast-feeding mother, you should know that a 1995 Australian study of breast milk found that infants are regularly exposed to several pesticides at levels greater than maximum recommended exposures.  In Canada, a study showed a direct correlation  has been observed between pesticide contamination of breast milk and the increased risk of otitis media (middle ear infection) in Inuit infants.


What about food additives?


Mr. Heaton’s article points out that artificial colorings and preservatives in food and drink are thought to contribute to hyperactivity in pre-school children, and while many still contest this issue, a study done at that time in the United Kingdom found that the proportion of hyperactive children was halved when additives were removed from their diets.  Many additives – such as preservatives, artificial sweeteners, colors and flavorings, MSG, hydrogenated fat, and phosphoric acid – are prohibited in organic food production.


So will you be healthier if you eat organic food?



A recent review of controlled animal feeding trials found significant improvements in the health of animals given organic feed and concluded:


“Reproductive health (and) incidence and recovery from illness are sensitive measures of health status and should be given appropriate weight.  Taking all of this into account, the available data are very strong with regard to the health benefits of organic feed and food.”


Similar tests with humans are problematic, though evidence is emerging here too!  An early observational study revealed that boarding-school students eating predominately organically for three years experienced a “very marked decline” in colds and influenza, more rapid convalescence, excellent health generally, fewer sports injuries, a greater resilience to fractures and sprains, clear and healthy skin, and improved dental health.


Summing it up!



So is organic food better for you?  In my opinion, as well as the author Mr. Heaton, the answer is yes.  Decreasing one’s toxin burden and increasing one’s intake of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants can have a significant impact on health, especially when trying to improve or restore health.



Personally, since I have been growing organically and preserving the food for consumption during the winter months, I have never felt better.  Like the studies suggest, I have fewer colds and in general, fewer health issues to contend with. Eating organic is not the “silver bullet” though.  I have to make sure that I also get plenty of exercise, rest and maintain a healthy diet too.  I limit the amount of red meat that I consume and watch my daily sodium level.  I consciously try to make healthy choices throughout the day.


Yes, growing my own makes it somewhat easy for me to accomplish this, but non-growers can do it too.  First you have to move away from the notion that eating “smart” has to cost more.  Studies have shown that the average family spends five times more on junk food, take-out food, alcohol, and tobacco than on fruits and vegetables.  To make healthier choices they need encouragement and education (see my blog “Are You Fighting For Your Children’s Future” 2/14/2011).


The fact is that organic food is not a luxury.  It’s how food’s supposed to be, and a valuable part of any regimen intended to maintain, improve, or restore health


Update: Are Fruits and Vegetables Getting Less Nutritious?  (courtesy of Nutrition Diva)

 Click Here To Read the Article



For more information on organic food and organic gardening please go to the following websites:

Michigan State University

Grinning Planet

National Home Gardening Club

Organic Gardening

Urban Farm Magazine

Christina Pirello   “Living the Well Life”

The Garden Resource Program   www.DetroitAgriculture.Org.

Project Sweet Tomato

Photo Credits:  John Adams (1, 2);  Jenni-ann Littsey (3, 4, 5, 6)