When I heard that Lafayette Greens had donated 2,000 pounds of its produce to Gleaners Community Food Bank, I wanted to help them make a difference in the community. I felt that my Uncle Fred and Aunt Maude would want me to volunteer. As a teenager, I spent my summers helping them on their 640-acre farm in Mechanicsville, Va., outside of Richmond.
My Aunt Maude had her own vegetable garden where she grew tomatoes, green beans and squash, among other vegetables. I relished the meals she prepared for the family with food straight from her garden because it was quality homegrown, nutritious food.
What’s more, they wanted to share that blessing of wholesome meals with others who didn’t have access to fresh, organic produce. Vegetables on Aunt Maude’s garden grew so plentifully that she and Uncle Fred took baskets of surplus food to low-income friends from church.
I’ve always wanted to be altruistic like my uncle and aunt, so I recently harvested potatoes from Lafayette Greens with Gwen Meyer, garden coordinator. The harvest of German Butterball potatoes, as well as those from Bolivia, was donated to Freedom House, a temporary home in Detroit for political refugees. Potatoes were also given to the Inner City Clubhouse, a local mental health organization. I felt gratified to be a part of blessing vulnerable people with high quality food.
I also looked at this volunteer experience philosophically. To harvest potatoes, you need a spade to really dig beyond the surface to where they are hidden. In the same way, you have to look beyond the surface, or blighted city neighborhoods, to see the resilient character of Detroiters. In spite of the city’s bankruptcy, I believe we will overcome eventually and even thrive. The nation — and the world — are watching. And Lafayette Greens is a harbinger of a more beautified Detroit to come.
While I was harvesting potatoes, I had the pleasure of showing the fruits of my labor to a British couple, Richard and Nicola Brown. As horticultural therapists, they were enthusiastic about the quality of produce from Lafayette Greens. Nicola wrote on the visitors’ log, “Great place!”
In talking with Richard and Nicola, I found out that they work with adults with developmental disabilities at a specialist assessment and treatment center in England, and through their research they assist people toward receiving the aid they need to live more independently.
Recently, Richard received a fellowship from Winston Churchill Foundation to research urban gardens in North America cities. He writes about his experiences, along with his visit to Detroit’s Lafayette Greens, on his blog: The Travelling Horticultural Therapist.
Richard and Nicola are some of many visitors to appreciate the urban garden. So far in 2013, 1,600 people have signed the visitors’ log from cities near and far and overseas countries, such as New Zealand and Switzerland. Most have written remarks of exuberant praise such as, “Awesome,” “Amazing place,” and “Just great, thanks for the green.”
These comments make my heart swell with pride to be a Compuware employee and a Detroiter whose city is coming back from the brink. The remark from Leila Almi, a Parisian, was truly inspiring: “Really peaceful and gorgeous! You do a great and useful job!”
I know my Uncle Fred and Aunt Maude are smiling from heaven because of the impact I made by volunteering at the urban garden. Giving away fresh produce to the disadvantaged was part of their life — and will continue to be part of mine.