Sunday, March 18, 2012

Urban Farming and Community Gardening in Lansing, Michigan

It all began about a year ago, in the sloppy, 
cold Michigan spring of 2011.
We had just moved into our current house 
and were rather pleased with ourselves.
We patted one another on the back and smiled, 
proud as could be.

"Look at us, all grown up, doing grown-up stuff."

The only difficulty with our lovely rental house was
the lack of gardening space. The house is beautifully landscaped
with plenty of perennials and shade-loving flowers,
which leaves little room for all of the vegetables
and other plants we would like to add.
Our very nice landlord had some concerns about
Sean and I ripping up her pretty yard, which is understandable.
But, how could we be self-reliant homesteaders
without our own bit of dirt to cultivate?

Around the time Sean and I were hitting this wall,
we heard from a friend that a new community garden 
was to be organized using empty lots 
rented from Lansing's Land Bank.
Part of Lansing's east side lies within a flood plain,
which has resulted in many vacant lots with rich soil
in a nearby neighborhood.

$10 a year, per lot.
Throw in lots of free seeds, 
seedlings, information and help. 
It sounded too good to be true...

One year later, we now know that it is true, 
and even better than we thought!

Here's Poppin' Fresh. We also have a second lot,
named Marvin's Gardens. (Get the reference?)

It took a lot of hard work, and some prescribed Vicodin
when Sean and I both threw out our backs pulling up 
sodden sod. The pain and temporary 
 inability to walk was worth it, in the end. 

Digging up all of that grass  to make the garden beds 
was the absolute worst part about this entire experience.
Once the Garden Project sent over their 
fabulous tilling machine our prospects looked better.

We have the equivalent of three city lots that we use for planting.
These empty lots are in an older, quiet neighborhood built upon a 
30-year flood plain. No new construction is allowed, 
so the houses are slowly being abandoned, 
eventually to be torn down by the city.
On either side of Poppin' Fresh are vacant houses 
slotted to come down this summer. When that happens, 
I expect we'll incorporate 3 or 4 more lots 
into our already large garden.

Last summer, our first main growing season, was a great success!
We have a core group of 5 - 7 gardeners 
who have invested an obscene amount of time 
and effort to make Poppin' Fresh what it is, today. 
Being close to MSU means there are countless 
students who sporadically show up to help out. 
In return, we send them home with a bounty 
of whatever is ready to harvest. Various student groups have 
come and gone, and we sometimes find 
ourselves short-handed when the demands of 
college keep the crowds at bay.

We function differently from the average 
Community Garden cooperative. Instead of each gardener 
tending their own small plot, we all work together 
on what may be better labeled as a Community Urban Farm. 
However, we don't follow the model presented 
by Urbandale, a production community garden/farm 
about a block away. They have a food stand 
and sell their produce to locals. 

They also have big fence. 
We're sort of against fences, but may need 
to construct one this summer to keep our livestock safe.

We're always a little unorganized, 
but Captain Kirk continues to surprise
us with all kinds of crazy ideas and amazing finds.
It looks like our next project will be a chicken coop!

In the last few months, we've acquired some major items:

 The Hoop House

Tons of pre-consumer compost from MSU  and Starbucks.
Piles in various stages line the left wall of the hoop house.
Our vermicompost (worms!) is doing especially well.

 Two New Zealand Rabbits (a buck and a doe).
Carol named them Thing 1 and Thing 2.
The number system might stick when 
they start breeding, next month.
((Update! More about the rabbits here!))

Seedling trays and pots, dozens of them, that were discarded.
We get free seeds through the Garden Project,
but everything we've planted so far this season comes
from left-over seeds - greens and herbs, mostly!

Sean's rabbit hutches, made from reclaimed MSU dorm desks.
Sean's constructing the roof right now!

One in progress, and one waiting for a new purpose.

A free chicken tractor from a nice stranger!

  Later this week we'll begin harnessing power from the sun. 
Captain Kirk's super-cool solar panel will be 
on loan to the garden for the next long while. 
This will allow us to ventilate the hoop house with fans, 
hook up a light and maybe a boom box. 
We may also need power to heat the chicken coop this winter,
if we don't keep it in the warm hoop house with the rabbits.


lauren said...

This. Is. So. Awesome.

Kevin Noel said...

This is great example for other communities; a project like this can help our environment to be better and it may encourage other families to support organic farming within city limits. It’s also a good instrument on teaching children on how vegetables are cultivated.

Kevin Noel

Audrey Barton said...

Thanks, Kevin! We first became involved because we were two suburban kids who wanted to learn all bout growing our own food - and we did! The experience we've gained is absolutely invaluable, and has changed our perspectives on how the world works and our place within it. Please keep checking back for more Garden posts!