Urban farming is all the rage in many cities, and Detroit is no exception. Detroit may actually be out in the forefront because we have so much empty land here as a result of lots being cleared of houses so derelict and/or burned out that they’re beyond repair.
There are many blocks of Detroit with only a handful of occupied homes. Enterprising residents put the empty space to good use by growing garden crops in the summer. Some have added greenhouses to extend the growing season.
Some “urban farms” actually fill a whole city block or more. Others make use of just a single empty lot, maybe two.
Eden Gardens on the east side of Detroit is one of the smaller ones. It’s a cooperative effort of the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue (IADS) and the Eden Gardens Block Club.
A synagogue known for urban outreach
The Downtown Synagogue was established in the 1920s. For many years it was a haven for people working in downtown Detroit who needed a quorum of 10 to say the daily memorial prayers.
As people and jobs moved away from the city, the synagogue was neglected. It was in danger of closing about 10 years ago when a group of young adults, representative of the Millennials who were moving back into the city from the suburbs where they grew up, discovered the tiny synagogue and revitalized it.
The congregation has become known for its community outreach and social justice programs like the Eden Gardens partnership.
For three summers, synagogue volunteers and Eden Gardens residents have joined to maintain a large community garden on two empty lots. The varied produce goes home with the volunteers or is used for the regular Sabbath dinners and lunches at the synagogue.
In 2014 they added a rain catchment system to irrigate the crops. Previously, they had to haul water from nearby homes in wagons.
On January 24, the eve of Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish “New Year of Trees,” the congregation rolled out a new project called Seeds to Table.
Nurturing seeds into plants
A small group of volunteers took home seeds, containers, growing medium and instructions for transforming the seeds into plantlets; they’ll report back about what works and what needs to be tweaked before the program’s official rollout later this winter.
Noah Purcell, 36, of Detroit, co-chairs Seeds to Tables with Erin Piasecki, a fellow at Repair the World: Detroit. They came up with the idea while cooking together in the synagogue’s kitchen one evening.
Synagogue and Eden Gardens partners regularly meet for meals called Building a Bridge Over Dinner. Seeds to Tables materials will be distributed at the February and March dinners.
In the spring the program coordinators will invite the seed growers to a “transplant day” at the community garden, encourage them to care for “their” plants through the summer, and bring them back to the Downtown Synagogue in the fall for a harvest dinner.
“How wonderful will it be when we invite those same folks to IADS to eat meals featuring the plants they nurtured from seeds?” asked Noah, an energy analyst for EcoWorks, a Detroit nonprofit. “We think it will be pretty special.”
What kind of recipe would go well with this article, I wondered? Well, my recipe for Massaged Kale Salad last July went over pretty well, and kale was a major crop at Eden Gardens, and it’s available in stores all winter, so here’s another yummy kale salad. Massage the kale in this one too; it makes the kale much easier to chew.