The organic nature of organizing and gardening

At the corner of Scotten and Branden in Southwest Detroit, the remains of once vibrant tomato and bell pepper plants recently weathered their first frost. This new community garden is the result of collaboration and a community’s collective effort to get to know its neighbors.

Global Detroit’s has been engaging residents in Southwest Detroit for more than two years, an effort led by our Director of Community Outreach Raquel Garcia Andersen. Raquel says the most important skill in her work is listening, and over time, she noticed a thread that the community felt slightly segregated. Residents craved more opportunities to get to know their neighbors, and the seed was planted in Raquel’s mind.

Meanwhile, through Global Detroit’s Banglatown community engagement project this summer, Raquel was exposed to and inspired by the project partnership between Burnside Farm and the Women of Banglatown, two initiatives that together are very intentional about building meaningful, trusted relationships with neighbors. Together they foster creative spaces where neighbors feels connected to each other and can invest in their community by participating in meaningful experiences together. They host weekly activities and community events, including dinners where much of the food comes from the garden. Raquel witnessed the collaboration’s boundless value in the community and was energized by the collectivism she felt in the neighborhood.

Raquel pitched the idea of growing a community space to those same Southwest Detroit residents she’d heard from, and they shared her inspiration and motivation. Over the summer months, collaborative efforts to build a neighborhood garden sprouted, and land was found, beds were built, and plants took root.

Through the organic conversations taking place in the garden, Global Detroit learned that the Southwest residents felt they had little exposure to the Banglatown neighborhood or its residents. So, in late summer, we facilitated a field trip to Burnside Farm to explore the operations. Southwest residents were excited to get to know their fellow Detroiters and the Bangladeshi customs, cultures, and vegetables that envelope Burnside.

“I didn’t know that we would have this momentum,” says Raquel. “It’s been so inspiring seeing people come together to get their hands dirty, grow food together, and most importantly, get to know each other. Bridges have been built.”

The Southwest group has developed partnerships with Keep Growing Detroit, which provides gardening tools and resources, and Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision (SDEV), which combats environmental issues including blight through gardening. SDEV connected the team with Build On, which now allows high school students in its program to volunteer in the garden and learn about growing food. These students have spread their energy beyond the garden fence (which they helped build) to neighbors needing assistance with yard maintenance.

The Southwest Detroit gardening project is an uplifting example of neighborhood residents coming together to improve their community. Raquel believes that when people work to make their own community better, they become more empowered to continue doing so. Global Detroit’s outreach work aims to facilitate this type of community strength and unity through encouraging residents to use their voices and foster collective efforts for neighborhood improvement.  

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