By: Terri Garza-Makowski – Stones Contributor
Have you ever started out down one path and found yourself on a completely different one? A very unexpected, wonderfully different path that gave you so much more than you expected? Well, I did just that this week. At Stones Detroit, we like to focus on the positive things taking place in Detroit. We like to hear and highlight stories of people choosing to move to Detroit; people who want to make a difference.
What had started about to be a general interview with Kate Devlin, a transplanted Detroiter by choice, I was introduced to what will happen when combining the passions of the various people who have hope.
“My mother had retired here,” she begins. “And then I went through a divorce. So I packed up my two kids and moved to Detroit to be near her.”
She now lives in the beautiful East English Village on the city’s east side and has been there for six years.
“I use to live downtown, Mid-town and Corktown and I’ve loved it all. I did move for a brief period from the city because I had school age children and that was a concern for me,” she explains, “but once they had completed school, I came back.”
Since we had connected on a facebook page “Move to Detroit” which is dedicated to transplants coming to the city, I ask her about her Perma Detroit facebook page.
“Oh,” she shares, “there was a group of us that started an urban farm based on the permaculture.” She continues to share about this urban farm that she began as a result of her participation in the Katrina recovery efforts. “When Katrina happened I felt compelled to help. So I loaded up my car and drove down to New Orleans. I thought I would bring relief to the first responders with massages during their down times, but it didn’t turn out that way. I ended up becoming a first responder myself.”
It was shear chaos, she explains when she arrived. It was like a war zone. She witnessed the complete failure of the government to bring a sense of order to the region when it was so desperately needed. The private security firm, Blackwater, was there to try to prevent looting but to no avail. As the weeks and months passed, she drove several times between Detroit and New Orleans and recognized the shocking similarities between the two cities.
She decided that she was ready to do something for people of Detroit. She reached out to the pastor at the Spirit of Hope, located at Trumbull and Martin Luther King Boulevard in the heart of the city. With three vacant lots, the church agreed to let her take over and begin her community garden.
Since I had never heard of permaculture before, I started to do homework. Sepp Holzer was the son of an Austrian farmer who had taken over his family farm in 1962. He took principles of ecological farming and applied them to farming in the mountainous regions where he lived. The farm flourished. He incorporated the use of nature into the farm, creating a self-sustaining environment that worked from each other taking traditional farming from its monocultural methods to one of both beauty and benefit.
There are 12 principles to permaculture. They are in order: 1) observe & interact, 2) catch & store energy, 3) obtain a yield, 4) apply self regulation & feedback, 5) use & value renewable sources & services, 6) produce no waste, 7) design from patterns to details, 8 ) integrate rather than segregate, 9) use small & slow solutions, 10) use & value diversity, 11) use edges & value the margin, and; 12) creatively use & respond to change.
As I walk through the farm, I see those principles put to use. A playground the church built for the children of its congregants is wonderfully blended beneath shade trees as you approach the farm. The Spirit of Hope church generously contributes water to the farm, while a rain barrel system is integrated to capture natures rainfall and reuse whenever possible. There is an array of vegetation from rose bushes to pumpkin patches put together around the hoop house in the center of it all. Beautiful artwork is peppered throughout using cast off bottles from the neighborhood and putting them to good use rather than be an eyesore on the street.
For the Birds
But no farm would be complete without chickens. There is a chicken coop that has both chickens and ducks and a cat to keep guard over them. There was a turkey, Uncle Bob, but he was recently moved to another farm on the east side, followed shortly by his female companion.”I had to move Uncle Bob to another farm,” explains Kate. “I tried to build some shade for him but he just didn’t get the concept that he was suppose to stay in the shade.” She educates me on how turkey are easily domesticated and can actually make good pets. “The female comes up to me when she sees me and greets me.”
I ask what happens to the yield from the farm. She explains that 25% of the produce is given to the food pantry at the Spirit of Hope. Another 25% goes to the volunteers who work the farm and the remaining 50% is sold and put back into the farm. The eggs are sold to help make money for the farm.You can see that this is a tremendous effort. And if not for the congregants and volunteers who believe in the cause and see the impact that is makes on those in need, there would surely be three vacant lots just taking up space in the landscaping of the city.
Norm, a congregant from the church, who had greeted my husband and I as we walked through the farm upon our arrival, tells us proudly they just had a two week class on site for people wanting to learn more about the permaculture principles.
“They were bathing over there at the shower,” he points to a spigot of water from a rain barrel, “just like Petticoat Junction,” he laughs. He explains that there were RV’s parked all over MLK Blvd and the neighborhood.
“Sepp Holzer was here himself,” she shares proudly, “we had people from across the United States.”
Spirit of Hope
The church that provided this wonderful opportunity has a history of its own. Built in 1892, it looks like a castle in a cozy European enclave. We go through the church with Norm, our guide for the day. From the minute you walk into the church, you see the history. From the original weighted wood doors, to the gargoyles that were craved into the rooftop eaves, the manpower that it took to build such a beautiful structure is not lost on me.
“You know why there are gargoyles on the outside?” Norm asks. I stand silent while he continues, “because there are angles on the inside protecting the church.”
“You can go up to roof if you want,” Norm invites. I, being eager set out, but realize that my claustrophobic tendencies had gotten the best of me. My hubby jumps at the opportunity trekking the nearly 100 stairs to the rooftop. Norm and I walk outside and look to the sky waiting for his appearance. And then, like a princess at the top of the turret, he appeared.”It’s incredible,” he calls out. He stays a moment taking in what I am certain to be a breathtaking view. While we wait for him to come back down, Norm explains that the fire marshall gave them permission to let people up on the roof for the fire works.”The marshall said there was a capacity for 50 people, so we let 50 go up. When two came down, I sent two more up.” It is obvious he is very proud of his church and what he does to help.
Hope to Cope
So what started as a story of one person’s vision and hope to move to Detroit eventually came to this: Hope to Cope. A food program sponsored by the church. With a community kitchen every Saturday, nearly 100 to 300 people come through the doors to receive a meal, some clothes or other items they might need. On Sunday’s a food pantry that provides non-pershiables, fresh meats, bread, fruits, vegetables; everything required to provide a good, healthy meal.
The pantry is sponsored in part by the Spirit of Hope church and other donor churches in the area, along with partnerships with Gleaners Food Bank and Forgotten Harvest.
As I gather myself to say goodbye to Kate (on my way to another interview), she tells me one more thing.
“We have a vegan/vegetarian cooking class every Thursday here from 2 to 8pm,” she continues, “if you are interested in coming you might want to arrive about 3:30,”she smiles, “that’s when the food will be ready.”
To learn more about Perma Detroit you can like them at www.facebook.com/permadetroit.
To donate the Spirit of Hope, you can contact them @ 313.964.3113 or go to their website:
Photo credits: Perma Detroit & Spirit of Hope