They Make It Easy!

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After being somewhat inactive for the last two years, due to illness, I am very happy to be back writing about life, experiences and things that mean a lot to me.  Hopefully, you all enjoy my musings and if I can use the number of visitors to my sites even during my absence, many of you do.  Today I would like to talk about one of my favorite subjects…Keep Growing Detroit!  There is something about this time of year (mid-April) where I am acutely aware of their existence and all of the good things they have done and continue to do after all of these years.  It’s kind of like Memorial Day or Independence Day where just before the holidays you might feel a little more patriotic than other days.  It’s a great feeling and where there are a lot of reasons why, there is one primary reason that validates their existence…their being…their worth, they make it easy!

Yes, they make it easy for anybody to garden.  Anybody with a dream…a desire…a plan, whatever, they make it easy!  I was at the cold-crop distribution last Thursday and I happened to witness a Keep Growing Detroit volunteer take a “senior” gardener by the hand and help her navigate the gathering of shoots and seeds.  It was obvious it was her first time and I was impressed and moved by the patience and guidance this particular volunteer gave this elderly lady.  Maybe she has had some gardening experience but her uncertainty was just enough to warrant the care and attention she received.  She couldn’t buy that type of customer service.

 

That’s not the only way they make it easy.  As a member of Keep Growing Detroit I can participate in…

 

  • Community Garden Workdays
  • Learn & Earn Workshops
  • Gardening/Cooking Classes & Tours
  • Exclusive Grown In Detroit Events & Programs
  • Garden Resource Program Events and Plant Distribution (Seeds; Cold Weather Crops; Hot Weather Crops; Fall Crops)

 

What does it cost to partake in all of this fun?  An easy $10 for a family garden or $20 for a community or school garden.  To be a full participating member you must live in Detroit, Hamtramck or Highland Park.  Even if you don’t live in Detroit you can use Keep Growing Detroit as your vehicle for volunteering in Detroit.  People come from all over the metro area to help make Detroit’s urban farming initiative into one of the most recognized programs in the country. And that’s not easy to do since there are hundreds of communities and programs nationwide that foster urban agriculture activities.  Don’t have time to volunteer?  Donations are always welcome!!!

 

There are over 1400 gardens in the tri-cities area and I think that the people at Keep Growing Detroit know each and every one of us.  I would love to see their LinkedIn page…talk about a network.  These guys are so involved…so in touch with the city, their efforts make it easy (there’s that phrase again) for us to just be gardeners.  They are on the side of urban agriculturists who include beekeepers, chicken farmers, and goat or sheepherders.  From teaching to selling Keep Growing Detroit has been making it easy for over a decade and it looks like it will keep going and growing in Detroit for a long time.

 

For more information on Keep Growing Detroit contact them at (313) 757-2635 or keepgrowingdetroit@gmail.com.

July 5th

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It’s Saturday, July 5th and for some reason I feel compelled to see the garden at the school. I usually take a (sometime) leisurely 2-mile walk with my pet, Joe Dawg, but feeling I guess a little fleet of foot and bored with the same old walking routine, I set out for Nolan Elementary-Middle School. Part of my walk is very familiar still as it is the path that I used to walk, morning and evening, on my way to accumulating 10 miles a day. Joe made this trip with me one time last year, so it was like his first time all over again. We stopped at nearly every telephone pole, flower bed, shrub and weed on the way there. Fortunately, no other dogs were out at the time we were walking, so there were no conflicts encouraged by Joe Dawg’s aggressiveness.

Arriving at the school, with the sun peeking over the tree tops, the garden kind of had the look of the opening scenes from the movie Camelot…it was so lush looking, so green, so rich and deeply hued. I was a good 50 yards away and like a movie camera my gaze fell on all of the beds in order from left to right. Even at that distance I could see activity in each bed. As I neared I could see a watermelon vine was trailing along the top of one bed. There was kale that we had already started to harvest. The strawberries were doing well, but unfortunately, we didn’t get every ground cherry that dropped from the stalk last year. The kids liked them, but I don’t think Ms. Bonnie (Bonnie Odom-Brown/B.E. Culturally Exposed) will be too happy to see them. The potato bed, which is the bed that most captures your attention from afar, is magnificent. It is full of leaves and flowers that let us know that there is a lot going on underground. A close visual second, right now, are the squash plants. They dominate the bed and are bearing fruit that are ready to be picked. In total we are growing a very wide variety of plants.

The Nolan Elementary-Middle School 2014 “Planting the Seeds” garden includes…
• Green Cabbage
• Red Cabbage
• Collard Greens
• Mustard Greens
• GRP Greens Mix
• Broccoli
• Dinosaur Kale
• Curly Kale
• Garlic (3 varieties)
• Onions (2 varieties)
• Potatoes (3 varieties…Red, White and Yellow)
• Sweet Potatoes
• Green Beans
• Yellow Wax Beans
• Sugar Snap Peas
• Watermelon
• Strawberries
• Eggplant
• Tomatoes (8 varieties)
• Romaine Lettuce
• Salad Bowl Lettuce
• GRP Lettuce Mix (Mesclun)
• Spinach
• Beets
• Radishes
• Carrots
• Ground Cherries
• Green Peppers
• Yellow Sweet Peppers
• Red Sweet Peppers
• Hot Banana Peppers
• Habenero` Peppers
• Jalapeno Peppers
• Rosemary
• Parsley
• Basil
• Sunflowers (2 varieties)
• Wildflower Mix
That’s a total of 40 vegetables (includes squash and zucchini) and flowering plants in 13 beds that students from the 3rd grade up to the 8th grade are managing. If everything grows as planned it will be a wonderful year. We do have to thank our friends at Keep Growing Detroit for the majority of the seeds and plants.

One thing that this year’s garden has had going for it has been the weather. It has been perfect since the month of May. We’ve had plenty of sunshine and just enough rain for everything to grow well. The moderate weather has been a boon to us as so far as we have had neither extreme heat nor continuous days of rain.

We have also had great support from our annual sponsors, Maura Ryan-Kaiser of Snelling Staffing Services and Mark Guimond from Michigan First Credit Union. Snelling employees are out there every week lending their assistance, doing whatever is needed. They are great role models for the kids.

So this is where we are as of the July 4th weekend. We are not growing corn (knee high by the fourth of July) but many of our sunflower plants are about 18 inches. Everything is green in our world and it’s fabulous!

Evening Pictures (I had to come back without the dawg)
Click on each picture to enlarge.

 

Camelot?

Camelot?

The closer we get, the better it will look!

The closer we get, the better it will look!

Watermelon and Zuchinni

Watermelon and Zucchini

Beets, Tomatoes and Spinach

Beets, Tomatoes and Spinach

Spinach and Tomatoes

Spinach and Tomatoes

Ground Cherries and Strawberries

Ground Cherries and Strawberries

Tomatoes

Tomatoes

Potatoes

Potatoes

Green and Red Cabbage

Green and Red Cabbage

Broccoli

Broccoli and Collard Greens

Big Lot at ground level

Big Lot at ground level

Potatoes...another look!

Potatoes…another look!

Squash

Squash

 

My Garden Life – July 2013

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My Garden Life  – July 2013

The Old Farmers Prayer (abridged)

 

Time just keeps moving on

Many years have come and gone

But I grow older without regret

My hopes are in what may come yet

 

On the farm I work each day

This is where I wish to stay

I watch the seeds, each season sprout

From the soil as the plants rise out

 

I study Nature and I learn

To know the earth and feel her turn

I love her dearly and all the seasons

For I have learned her secret reasons

 

All that will live is in the bosom of earth

She is the loving mother of all birth

But all that lives must pass away

And go back to her someday!

 By Malcolm Beck & Robert Tate

 

Those of you that are regular readers on this site know what a difficult year 2012 was for me at my home garden and for my associates that worked with me at Nolan Elementary-Middle School (Nolan’s Fierce Gardeners).  Between the vandalism at the school garden that literally forced us to start over [1] and the oppressing heat that definitely affected farm and garden production across the country (record heat waves in the Midwest), 2012 was nearly a devastating year.  But through all that, my friends and I, fellow gardeners and kids survived and conquered our enemies, natural and man-made, to have productive yields at both gardens.[2] .[3] . [4].  So as the year ended I was feeling pretty doggone good!

One of the last things we did with the kids was a garlic-seeding lesson coordinated by what was then the Garden Resource Program.  We all met at a community garden in Hamtramck to do some clean-up work, drink some fresh pressed apple cider and learn how to plant garlic.  I’ve got to tell you…that cider was damn good…it was cold and tart and natural and cold and sweet and cold…it was fabulous.  One small cup was all I dared to consume.  One small cup…the nectar was addicting!  One cup more would have led to a jug and then just hanging out at the cider press.  This stuff was that good.  Of course we couldn’t keep the kids away from it, but we did manage to get them to focus at what was at hand.  It was a fun day and even I learned something because I was out there.

So I got some garlic from my good BUDDY John Adams and planted it on Nov. 4th along the back row of the garden.  Starting from the West/South end heading north I planted: Music (14); Japanese (13); Kilarney Red (27) and Chesnok Red (30).  Also buried pumpkin shells to add material to the soil.  I was ecstatic because I had a lot of momentum at behind me and I was feeling good about 2013’s prospects.

Two reasons I was feeling good were John R. King Academic and Performing Arts Academy[5] and Law Academy.  They both became members in the Project Sweet Tomato program.  They both had so much too work with, greenhouse (!!!), a more than cooperative attitude and importantly, the correct vision.  The teacher/coordinator, the newly retired Ms. Gwen Bouler was excellent to work with and when you see her garden you will know why [6].  Another reason for heightened expectations was the development of a fine relationship with the staff of Nolan Elementary-Middle School.  Nolan is an EAA (Educational Achievement Authority) project school and in this new environment there has been considerable growth and improvement in literally all aspects of the program…from administrative staff to the CEO Ms. Angela Underwood (principal) and her Parent & Community Involvement Specialist, Ms. DeAndrea “DeDe” Rogers to the teachers and most importantly the kids and their grade scores.  Wonderful things are going on over there and I am excited about its future.

There’s another garden-related program in the city that initially I was pretty high on.  The Detroit School Garden Collaborative, when I first heard about it I was ecstatic.  Six-raised bed with all the fixins’ would be given to Detroit Public Schools that applied for them.  There would be new jobs for students (paid-internships) and for adult assistants.  The gardens would grow vegetables that would be used in the school’s cafeterias.  There would be classroom programs, horticultural and agricultural education, nutrition, and community outreach.  Unfortunately they have had some problems getting it off the ground.  It is going to be a work in progress, and for it to succeed it will need help from a lot of organizations.

As the New Year started, when I am typically checking out my gear and determining what I want to grow (my seed catalogs were coming in almost daily), I found myself not counting the days, but procrastinating about what I was going to do and when I was going to do it.  The first thing off of my “bucket list” was germinating seeds indoors.  My excuse was I didn’t want to take on the process of converting my dining into a plant laboratory.  So to be sure, I cleaned up the dining area, got it looking regal and all that, but slowly but surely it got loaded up with seed packets and garden paraphernalia anyway.

Then came the cold weather crops distribution courtesy of my friends and mentors of Keep Growing Detroit (a spin-off from the Garden Resource Program) in April.  I thought I was going to regain my mojo but “po’ pitiful” me couldn’t get any traction.  The weather didn’t exactly help either (at this date a token excuse), but I did get out and plant carrots and for the first time since I began gardening here, I will be a carrot eating fool!!!  Yum, Yum Eat ‘Em Up!  That sound you hear is not thunder…nor a earthquake…neither a sonic boom, no that’s me taking a bite from a carrot pulled fresh from the garden.  I planted several varieties like:

  • Nelson
  • Danvers
  • Royal Chantenay

They are all doing very well, the stems, a parsley-like green…tall and flowing.  But, as exciting as the carrots are, I’m still not quite there.

The month of May kind of shot by for me and before I knew it, warm-weather crop distribution, courtesy of Keep Growing Detroit, was upon me.  I was picking up for my home garden and the Nolan School garden too!  I got there and instead of being excited seeing old friends and making new ones, I meandered from distributor to distributor and gathered my plants and split.  It was no big deal…it didn’t register on me then but upon reflection I should known then that there was a different feeling this year.

I shared my thoughts/feelings with several of my gardening friends and surprisingly was told the same thing.  Almost everybody I know, that is into gardening, considers this year to be an off year as for interest and effort.  They will get what they get but they don’t intend to work too hard to get it.  This behavior probably explains the lack of gardening conversations between my friends and I.  Everybody claims a lack of focus this year too.  They’ve got a lot of major projects going on elsewhere and something’s got to give if they are going to get them done in a reasonable space of time.  Something had to give and for many it was gardening.

I think that for myself, I have spent a considerable amount of time assisting the effort to get the gardens going at Nolan and John R. King.  Both of these school gardens got in before mine.  I was fortunate that some veggies that over-wintered in the garden gave me some of my earliest taste experiences.  I had lettuce and scallions in May and June, plus the garlic I planted last November has been harvested as I write this.  I didn’t really get anything in the ground until June 2nd.  I spent the entire day and the two days that followed (between rain storms) putting every plant I had in and planting seeds also.  So in spite of my laxity of energy and desire I have happily managed to get the following crops in:

  • Greens (All Greens Mix)
  • Arugula
  • Nelson Carrots
  • Napoli Carrots (Fall)
  • Lettuce (Mesclun Mix)
  • Spinach, Space
  • Yankee Bell Pepper
  • Early Jalapeno Pepper
  • Italia Sweet Pepper
  • Big Beef Tomato
  • Brandywine Tomato
  • Cherokee Purple Tomato
  • Black Cherry Tomato
  • Green Zebra Tomato
  • Paste Tomato
  • Marketmore Cucumber
  • Georgia Collard Greens
  • Broccoli
  • Belstar Broccoli (Fall)
  • White/Green Cabbage
  • Red Cabbage
  • Tenderbush Green Beans
  • Goldmine Yellow Wax Beans

For a guy that’s supposed to be experiencing an overwhelming feeling malaise this is no small undertaking.  There are 3-20 ft. rows of each bean type…17 tomato plants, 6 varieties14 pepper plants, 3 varieties24 cucumber plants (trellised)4 of each cabbage…6 collard greens…6 broccoli (plus 6 to be planted).  This year I didn’t plant two of my standards, yellow squash and zucchini, as well as a host of peppers (long/short cayenne, ancho/poblano, hot/sweet banana).  I also skipped on the tomatillos.  I guess the several containers of frozen Salsa Verde in my freezer should serve as a reminder of what I should not grow in the immediate future. 

Maybe I am slightly disaffected because there have not been the usual challenges as per seasons before.  I used to get so much fun looking out my office window, keeping watch on the squirrel population as they devastated my garden.  My BB gun has been in the closet now for two years.  Or the times when 50 to 100 birds, black ones with black beaks and iridescent chests, would land in my yard and walk from one side to the other eating and destroying (breaking) everything in their path.  They got a lot of insects but there was a toll to pay.  They would use the garden as a giant dust bath, just flipping and flapping…sometimes fighting around the garden.  Breaking whatever they could…collateral damage, right?  Of course there were the rabbits…my hip-hop friends that nibbled exclusively on young, tender shoots.  All of this has stopped.  Stopped virtually completely!  And I think I know why…my inflatable snakes.  The inflatable snakes from last year.  I haven’t had to put them out this year because no animal…bird or rodent…has come into my yard.  They stopped coming in last year and with the exception of one rabbit and one squirrel hopping quickly across the yard I have not see any pest/varmint in my garden this year.  Maybe they think that the snakes are still out there somewhere…lol.  I do miss the birds, especially the wide variety I did see, but I don’t miss the rest of them that’s for sure.

I ultimately think that I am slowed more than just a little because of the unpredictability of the weather, here and across the nation.  Last year, we were experiencing extreme heat and violent outbursts of weather.  A combination that was not conducive to high output at any level.  This year, with the somewhat mild winter, we were hit by a spring that was somewhat reminiscent of past springs (not as moderate as last year) and a summer that to me was kind of slow to take off.  Last year we had the heat and this year, so far, we’ve got rain…Rain…RAIN and plenty of it.  We have had more than enough rain.  Last year from June 1 through July 30, I hand watered each and every plant on almost an every other day basis.  Because of the heat, unfortunately I over-watered.  So far, this year, I have physically watered my garden only 3 times.  Imagine that…only 3 times (and one of those times it rained afterward).  Between June 1st and July 21st, 61 days…it has rained 29 times!  That’s almost every other day!  Perhaps, I and many others are feeling like we have no control…no control of the weather (how much rain can be too much rain)…no control over the care of the vegetables…no control of the overall outcomes.  All we can do is plants them…put them in that damn ground and nurture them to health and productivity.

Is this what our forefather’s faced?  The Scott’s brand or Miiracle-Gro didn’t exist!  Technology for them was a well that was not more than 10 steps from the garden.  Man, Woman, child, family and friends against the elements.  You didn’t get fancy or waste a space with something that wasn’t going to come close to expectations or needs.  It was about land management.  You had to seasonally rotate and manage crops so that you could eat all year.  Frigidaire?  What was that?  Kenmore?  Come On!  You better get your crops down into that “root cellar”[7] and let them set for keepin’!  Back then, you gardened/farmed with an ongoing desperation and frustration, so maybe that’s what I am feeling now.  As much as I would like to have it, that magically charged green thumb, it’s not going to happen.  I will have to adjust, think smart and adapt to whatever the elements and the environment give me. It looks like in several ways this year will be as good as last year and better too in specific areas.  My bean production should be up, while I am sure my tomato output will be down.  I will take a good bean yield any day! My cabbages are off to a slow start but the collard greens are doing quite rightly so.  Hot banana peppers are looking good and plentiful, jalapeno peppers are at standard and bell pepper plants are flowering.  I will have a good yield from my cucumbers; the plants right now look vigorous and strong.  I will need 101 different ways to prepare this vegetable if they hold to form. 

2013 photo 1

Cucumbers and plum tomatoes

2013 photo 3

All my little bean soldiers standing in a row!

2013 photo 4

2013 photo 5

A row of carrots planted between two rows of garlic

2013 photo 7

2013 photo 8

2013 photo 9

All of the garden scaffolding…can’t wait till the tomato plants fill them out.

2013 photo 10

These pictures were actually taken about 3 weeks ago and a lot has happened since they were taken.  I’ve got beans on the plants and tomato development and growth is improving.  Fall crops will get in next week.  I have come to like this garden.  It’s different…it’s practical…it’s creative.  Like most experienced gardeners and farmers, I will learn from this year, put it in my toolkit, and get ready for 2014.

It Starts With A Seed!

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What type of person commits himself or herself to do something that is a lot of hard work with no financial reward?

 

What type of person commits himself or herself to spend time working on the behalf of socially challenged kids that need a positive direction, timely support and motivation so that they can aspire beyond their current situation?

 

What type of person looks beyond the faults of people to see and address their needs?

Through the Project Sweet Tomato program, I am finding and learning more about these types of people.  The people that say that they are concerned about the future of today’s children, tomorrow’s children and the society that they will ultimately inherit and mean it.  These are people who undoubtedly came from working-class environments and were raised with the belief that the world does not owe you anything.  Whatever they have at this moment they have because they worked for it…they earned it   To use a popular term in a new tense…they are “old-school”…they are the offspring of the post-war generation.  There were no “rock stars”, reality show celebrities or made-in-an-instant personalities influencing their lives.  Nothing but what their parents worked hard for and what the good Lord gave them to work with to achieve their goals.  Yet they give. They give back plenty!  You know some of these people and I would like to introduce you to a few more…Ms. Bonnie Odom, Ms. Michelle Schwendemann and Ms. Maura Ryan-Kaiser.  They are the women behind the Nolan Elementary School Garden.  I had the opportunity to talk them about their background, their motivation and what they would like to achieve working with the kids in Project Sweet Tomato.  Interestingly, though they come to this from different directions they have all arrived at the same point…and it all starts with a seed!

Welcome ladies, how are you doing?

 

Ladies: (in unison) Fine, happy to be here!

 

Tell us a little about yourselves…

 

Bonnie Odom:  I am a recently retired employee of the Third Judicial Circuit Court where I was a finance and grants analysis for juvenile court programs.  I worked there for 27 years.

Michelle Schwendemann:  I have been at Nolan Elementary for 10 years as a Math teacher and have recently accepted the position of Math Instructional Specialist.

Maura Ryan-Kaiser:  I am Vice President of Snelling Staffing Services and have been employed there for nearly 25 years.

How or why did you get involved with Project Sweet Tomato or a community garden program?

 

B.O.:  I started a community garden last year (at my mother’s house) working with Youth Growing Detroit through The Greening of Detroit; I recruited students from Nolan Elementary.  I worked with 10 girls between 11 and 14 years old.  The plan was to work with those girls to become leaders for a school garden this year.  I got involved with Project Sweet Tomato after Arthur Littsey offered to help with the Nolan school garden at our first cluster workday back in April.  Actually, I twisted his arm!

M.S.:  Through Bonnie Odom.  I was working with her and the BE Culturally Exposed program to develop an exterior classroom and a community garden in which the students and the community could grow.

M.R-K.:  I got involved with Project Sweet Tomato because we have been working in the Metropolitan Detroit area for the past 25 years and part of our corporate community responsibility mission is to stay connected to the communities we serve and the opportunity to participate in this program helps us achieve two of our main goals.  One is to engage in the community and work directly with the people who live in the community and the second is to couple our connections with other businesses in the community to directly benefit the people who live there.  With Project Sweet Tomato, I envision that we will be able to accomplish both of our goals and establish a long term relationship with Nolan Elementary that will allow us to build great relationships with the teachers and students of the school and to bring to them an exposure to a wide variety of careers and industries that exist in the city so the children are able to establish a set of goals at an early age.

Very nice!  What would you like/expect to happen as a result of your participation in the program?

 

B.O.:  Sharing of resources and connections to others who can participate in the community surrounding Nolan School.  I can see the Nolan students being exposed to many activities available in Detroit, that they otherwise may not have the opportunity to experience.

M.S.:  Quite simply, to expose our children and community to working in and growing a garden.  You know the old saying, “Give a starving man a fish and he eats for a day, teach him to fish and he can eat for a lifetime.”  I feel the same way about teaching our students to plant seeds.  If we give them food they eat for a day, but if we teach them to garden, they will have the skills to grow their own food forever.  Gardening teaches more than just “skills”, it teaches patience, endurance, caring and many more “life skills” for a higher quality of life.

M.R-K.:  I would like to build a relationship of mutual trust and respect with the faculty, students and families of students who attend Nolan so that we may provide the children support with the garden project and also provide them support to set and achieve future goals as they mature.

So Maura, you see the potential for year-round support.  Are you talking about mentoring programs and activities like that?

 

M.R-K.:  Definitely!  I see the garden as a starting point for our involvement with Nolan Elementary School.  With our business customers as partners, Snelling is able to assist with exposing the children at the school to multiple career options, provide the kids a realistic scholastic path to achieving the careers they are being exposed to and assist them with setting reasonable timelines to achieve their goals.

I see a very common bond.  It’s nice and very important that you all share a vision as to what a garden can do.  What other community/charity programs do you support or participate in?

 

B.O.:  I am involved with several programs.  Besides being a coordinator for Youth Growing Detroit, I also work with BE Culturally Exposed, which is a non-profit that exposes inner-city youth to cultural events such as the DSO, plays and other recreational events.  We are always providing positive activities that broaden the horizons of the students.

M.S.:  I have been involved with “Sisters Against Domestic Abuse” (SADA’s House)

M.R-K.:  We participate with several schools by sitting on boards at Walsh College, ITT Technical, as well as the Michigan Association of Staffing Services Board, Snelling Advisory Group (Corporate), Goodwill Industries Business Advisory Group, and the Auburn Hills Chamber of Commerce (as a Chamber Ambassador)

I am not surprised to hear that you all are socially active in a variety of ways and it is obvious that you take your activism seriously.  On a lighter note, do you have a garden at home?  If so, what’s growing in it this year?  What’s your favorite?

 

B.O.:  I do not have a garden at my home, but I am continuing the garden at my Mom’s house.  I like so many vegetables; we have cabbage, squash, collard greens and peppers. My favorite is cabbage. 

M.S.:  I do not have a garden at my home this year, but I have had one in previous years.  Corn is my favorite vegetable.

M.R-K.:  My husband Jack made a raised bed garden for me this year that is 3’ x 18’.  We are growing cucumbers, squash, zucchini, string beans, tomatoes, onions, potatoes and lettuce.

What’s the school garden like?  What are you growing there?  How many students are involved? Has the local community been involved with the garden project?

 

B.O.:  We have 4 raised beds (4’ x 8’) in this year’s garden and we are also planting a 20’ x 10’ section to raise fall crops.  There are between 18 and 20 students currently participating in the garden club.  We would like for more adults from the community to get involved.  Naturally, we have to be careful whom we have around the kids, but there is a real need for parents to look at this as more than a babysitting service and get involved with their children.

M.S.: Yes, we do have some involvement from the community.  From the very beginning we reached out to the neighbors of the school as well as worked in conjunction with the people from the Greening of Detroit.  But like Bonnie said, we need more parental involvement!

When do you all work out in the garden?

 

B.O.:  We have a fixed schedule.  We are out there three days a week…Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.  Days are scheduled depending on the amount of work that needs to be done.  Because of the heat, we try not to be out there until the evening between 6:00 and 7:30p.m.  Saturdays are optional and are scheduled for the early morning hours, usually 9 to 10:30.

M.R-K.:  We have employees as well as my family involved (13 volunteers) and we try to get as many out there on the scheduled dates we can, as often as possible.

Sounds good!  Looking ahead, what would you recommend or what do you think the program needs to be better on a social/community level and/or a scholastic level?

 

B.O.:  I would like to see more involvement of the school staff, especially during the school year.  The program runs April thru October and if teachers and faculty show an interest and encourage the children to get involved, I feel it would give the program a giant step forward.  I can see a project like the teachers having the students to start seedlings in the classroom that could be transplanted into the garden as a step in the right direction.

M.S.:  A living growing evolving classroom in which the entire community comes together to learn and grow.  I would also like to see additional conservation businesses become involved so that perhaps Nolan can become a self-sufficient school with greenhouses and windmills.

M.R-K.:  I think it needs more organization!  A definite or firmer starting timeline and checklist to better organize volunteers.  It is very important that the program gets off properly so that we can take advantage of the services and offerings provided by support organizations like the Greening of Detroit so that we can get cool weather crops in the ground in a timely fashion so that the kids may see and benefit from several harvests.  We also have so many opportunities to plant and grow flowers and flowering trees and shrubs to add some color to the Nolan landscape and we want to enlarge the vegetable garden, so we will need to put a list of projects together and prioritize them so the kids may see their vision become a reality.

Well you can rest assured that you are not alone on these specific thoughts and appropriate actions are being considered or will be in place for the 2012 program.  Thank you all for your time and I am sure that we will be looking forward to your continued participation in the program and your ongoing support in the other areas you have identified.

Looking For Signs Of Hope…Finding It Everywhere!

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A couple of days ago I got a call from the people of the Garden Resource Program asking me if I was still going to come out and work at the community school garden being placed at Nolan Elementary/Middle School.  The first thing that came to my mind was, “Gee, when did I volunteer for that?”  That will teach me to stand and go to the bathroom when someone is talking!  Oh well, its kind of close and it was the junior high school that I attended when I was a kid, I’ll do it.  Besides, it will be nice to see how these things were done.  Whatever I learn from this experience I will be able to share with the people (teachers, administrators, students and sponsors) that are involved with Project Sweet Tomato.

The designated date and time was Saturday at 3:00p.m.  Of course, when I got up Saturday it was raining.  I looked at the calendar and noticed that this was the weekend of Detroit’s Downtown Hoedown and it almost always rains on Hoedown weekend.  “Well there goes that”, I thought as I decided to take care of other important but non-essential activities.  But as my luck would have it, the rain stopped and in spite of the gray skies overhead, I did not get a call saying that the days gardening activities were cancelled.  So at about 2:30 in the afternoon, I started to slowly walk to the school not quite sure what I had got myself into.

Upon arriving at the school and meeting some of the students, teachers and leaders from the Garden Resource program, I was immediately given the assignment to go pick up some tree stumps at the house of a neighbor of one of the teachers.  I left with two other individuals to go get the stumps and to get there we had to go through an area of the city that has been hit pretty hard.  There were burnt out houses, abandoned homes, businesses boarded up…evidence of decay and the lack of any measure of effort to correct or improve the neighborhood.  I must admit I was more than a little embarrassed, since our driver was a “rose-colored cheek” intern from U of M and a resident of the city of Northville.  She had undoubtedly seen and heard about this aspect of Detroit (let’s thank Newt Gingrich for that), but nonetheless this is not the visual that I would want someone to take away from of our city.

As we proceeded to our destination, we came upon an event that actually caught me by surprise.  For here amongst all of this rot, decay and unsightly destruction someone dared to throw a party.  We couldn’t stop to see exactly what was going on, but there were balloons, music and a lot of merriment taking place.  It wasn’t like one could ignore the overall plight of the environment, but it was like a decision had been made not to let this beat you down…keep you down…that you should hold your head up…keep striving…don’t stop until you get ahead.  There was hope here…plain and simple.

“Look, Look

Look to the rainbow

Follow it over the hill

And the stream”

So when we finally got back to the school, I had a moment to reflect on what I had just seen and what I was about to witness.  I took a hard look at the kids that came out to work on the garden.  These kids didn’t get dropped off by their parents in some big and fancy car.  No, there was not a big spread of exotic delicacies from around the world.  No cases of imported water either. These were not the children of wealth and privilege.  Definitely not!  So why were they here?  If you were to believe not everything but most of what you have heard or read about the youth of Detroit, what I was seeing was either a mirage or perhaps the result of drinking tainted water.

What I saw on this day were hardworking kids that had been instilled with a little something called hope.  Because they had “hope” they were out there building the boxes for raised beds.  Because they had hope they were shoveling and pulling up sod.  Because they had hope they were hauling away the dirt…building a compost pile…setting up their rain barrel.  There was no crying about how tough it was…how hard the ground was…how heavy the load.  No crying about the work assignments or the distribution of duties and responsibilities.  That was not what they were here for.  Here we had a group of kids that represented the hope of better days ahead…for themselves, their school, their community and last but not least, the city of Detroit.

Ms. Bonnie Odom and students picking up transplants 5/19/11

They were here because somebody told them that if you plant a single seed something magical might happen.  They were here because they were told that as an individual working within a group that something significant could be accomplished.  They were here because as a team or as unit they were told that they could bring about change that would benefit not just themselves but also an entire community.  Hope would give them the richest rewards they would ever find.

“Look, Look

Look to the rainbow

Follow the fellow

Who follows a dream”

Everywhere I looked I saw hope!  Those that came without hope took some home with them.  Those that came with it walked away with a little more.  A little hope can go a long way…and we’re just getting started!

Nolan Elementary School is not currently part of Project Sweet Tomato.  It will be considered for the program in 2012.  If there ever was a school that should be part of the program, Nolan and its “Knights” definitely qualify.  If you have a business or work for a company that might want to sponsor the garden at Nolan or any other Detroit Public School, please contact Arthur Littsey/Nine Below Zero at (313) 369-1710 or littsey.arthur@sbcglobal.net.

To volunteer to assist the students at Nolan please contact Bonnie Odom at b.e.odom203@comcast.net

To learn more about the mechanics of Project Sweet Tomato please click here.

A special thanks to Ms. Michelle Schwendman, School Liasion and Ms. Bonnie Odom, Community Volunteer at Nolan Elementary School and the Greening of Detroit/Garden Resource Program for having me at their garden groundbreaking.

 

Look to the Rainbow, lyrics E. Y. Harburg

Life Is Like A Box Of Chocolates…

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Forrest Gump

“Life is like a box of chocolates,” Yes indeed, and it is because you don’t really know what to expect.  When I put out the call to businesses and friends to support the Project Sweet Tomato program, I had no real expectations as to who would step up and embark with me in an effort that could impact and influence the lives of our children by demonstrating how to have a healthy lifestyle in a fun, yet educational way.  A broad effort that included social outreaches and not just to the children/students, but to their families and their community, also.  Relevant, inspirational and motivational outreach to many was the intended outcome goal of the program but to witness it, as I have, has been a totally pleasurable experience.  An experience that I believe has been shared by my partners in the program, so far.  Many have embraced Project Sweet Tomato and a lot of people have shown their support for the program in unexpected but highly valued and much appreciated ways.  One such supporter is Maura Ryan-Kaiser.

One day, last summer, over a lovely dinner with Maura, her husband Jack and a friend, we had a fun conversation about Farmville one of the games on Facebook and a game that Maura had totally embraced.  I chided her for playing the game when to my surprise she told me about her container gardening efforts and the landscaping effort that was now their backyard.  I have to tell you that looking out over their yard with the colors so natural, rich and vibrant was like viewing a frame of an early Disney movie…like living in a Technicolor world.  Further testament to her love of actual gardening was that we had tomatoes from her container garden in the salad.  Not bad!!!

I don’t know if it was at that moment that I thought that the Kaiser’s would be interested in getting involved with Project Sweet Tomato, which at the time was still a concept.  One thing I did know was that if they were to get involved it would be in a most sincere and significant way.

 

The Kaiser Family

I was very happy when I got the call that the Kaiser’s and their family business, Snelling Staffing Services were joining the program.  We shared several emails discussing the finer points of the program and throughout the entire process it was clear that there was a vision, that, like my other sponsors went beyond giving a bunch of kids some seeds to plant in the ground.  Maura had shared the concept with her staff and she came to the table with a volunteer group of 13 strong, and that included her two sons.

 

In addition to the volunteers, she detailed other elements of her vision or more appropriately her mission now that she was engaged in the program.  She saw an opportunity to use her client base to create an ongoing series of career fairs.  Real world…in real time, frank discussions on what it will take to be employed in the present and the future.  Another element was establishing a mentoring program.  This would be something she would like to get her clients involved in also.  The plus side is that everybody that gets involved in the effort gains…it is a win at all levels.

Project Sweet Tomato

+

Snelling Staffing Services

+

Business Partners/Clients

+

Public School

=

Relevant Business Outreach + Positive Community Engagement

WIN!

 

It was during the first week of April that I got the call from the Detroit Public School Foundation/Detroit Regional Chamber representative, Brooke Franklin of Business Corps, to discuss a school for Snelling Staffing Services.  We discussed two schools and due to the nature of the resources that Snelling intended to provide it was determined that the complex of schools known as Cody High would be the ideal partner for Snelling in the Project Sweet Tomato program.  Cody is made up of five schools that address different education disciplines and their names reflect their individual and independent curriculums.

 Cody - Detroit Institute of Technology at Cody

For Project Sweet Tomato, Snelling Staffing Services has been partnered with Detroit Institute of Technology.  The principal of DIT is Ms. Mary Kovari.  There are two teachers that have been assigned to work with us, and they are Ms. Forchatta Scott and Ms. C. Ramona Gligor.  We held our first meeting on Friday, April 29th, where we were introduced to another Cody/DIT sponsor, East Michigan Environmental Action Council (EMEAC, www.emeac.org), which was represented by Ms. Lizzy Baskerville.  EMEAC has a project that they call the “Greener Schools Program.”  The school has a lot of projects and goals it wants to accomplish over the next few years and Snelling uniquely provides the ways and means for some of them to be achieved

Arthur Littsey (l.), Maura Ryan-Kaiser (c.), Mary Kovari (r.)

 

Facing camera...Lizzy Baskerville (l.), Ramona Gligor (c.), Forchatta Scott (r.)

So when I look at this box of chocolates that I call Project Sweet Tomato, I can’t help but wonder with great anticipation what flavor will I get the next time?  What combination of business and school will I get that will produce another sweet outcome?

Inspired?  Want to get on the bandwagon?  Want to know how you can help?  Contact Arthur Littsey/Nine Below Zero at (313) 369-1710 or email at littsey.arthur@sbcglobal.net.

To learn more about the Detroit Public Schools Volunteer Business Corps/B.O.L.D. (Business/Organizations Optimizing Learning in Detroit) partnership between the Detroit Public Schools, Detroit Regional Chamber and the Skillman Foundation        click here

Participation Is Mandatory

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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 littsey.arthur@sbcglobal.net.  Show your support for a small program that can do a world of good.