DETROIT, MI (July 12, 2010) – Carole Hawke hopes to transform the lives of teenagers in her neighborhood one garden at a time.
The member of Messiah Church, an Evangelical Covenant Church, has teamed with neighbors to transform vacant lots into urban gardens managed by teenagers who also sell the produce at farmers markets. The garden is part a larger movement to “green the city,” and organizers collaborate with “Youth Growing Detroit,” a city-wide youth market garden program.
Hawke, a social studies teacher, bought her home in the Brightmoor neighborhood in 2007. Despite the neighborhood’s name, “it’s very blighted,” she says. It also increasingly is a place of hope.
Last year, a dozen youth helped grow the gardens. That has grown to 23 people ranging in age from 10 to 18. Hawke also is excited that the number of girls has grown to six from just one in 2009.
Hawke, who admittedly doesn’t have a green thumb, and neighbors started the gardens on several lots along Grayfield Street. A variety of vegetables are grown on the properties.
“It’s a real tangible way to teach a work ethic,” Hawke says. Boys work in the garden from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Tuesdays. Girls work from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Thursdays. They all work Saturday mornings.
The vegetables are sold at a farmers market from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursdays, and the students work in shifts.
“They really love serving at the market,” says Hawke. “Their customer service skills are great.” The gardeners are educating themselves on the produce so they can offer customers ideas on how to cook the vegetables.
Students earn money from the sale of the vegetables and are paid according to the hours they have invested in the gardens. They will sell about $2,000 worth of produce, and Hawke has taught them financial management, so they learn how to re-invest a portion in the project as well as develop savings programs.
Work opportunities are scarce, and most participants initially are only interested in earning some money. Their interest expands, however.
“Our garden is a source of pride for the kids,” Hawke says. They love to greet groups that are touring urban gardens.
Because one of the lots does not have access to a water supply, students who had taken woodworking class worked with a group of men to construct a rainwater collection system. The water flows through gutters to a barrel from which it is delivered down the 75-foot long rows of produce.
The students also have developed a strong sense of ownership and community. “They are a tight group,” Hawke says.
Working the gardens offers the added benefit of giving the kids an opportunity to be part of something from start to finish, says Hawke. Work normally begins in the spring and stretches to early fall.
Though working with the group can be time-consuming, Hawke explains, “I do it because I really enjoy the kids. This has been a way to be involved with our community youth.”
Hawke adds, “One of the joys of this neighborhood is it benefits all of us to work together. Detroit is an area where we have to be creative.”