Three vacant lots behind Spirit of Hope (MLK and Trumbull, formerly Trinity Episcopalian Church) have been transformed into the lush and sustainable Spirit Farm by local activist Kate Devlin and an assortment of volunteers. Residents and church groups donate time, energy and resources, preschoolers tend to their own milk-crate sized gardens, and a turkey named Uncle Bob minds the chicken coop.
“I heard about this African country rejecting food aid from us, and I’m like, wait a minute, why are starving people rejecting our food?” says Devlin. “I did some research [on] Monsanto and genetically modified foods. I already had had herb gardens because years before they had passed this thing where they can irradiate herbs to kill bugs. That’s a byproduct of the nuclear industry—and that’s going into our food.”
In 2005, Devlin traveled to New Orleans to meet the challenges of Hurricane Katrina and learned from working alongside volunteers and first responders. Traveling back and forth between here and Louisiana, “the similarities were so striking to me,” she says.
“I started thinking about Detroit being, not a disaster area, but a disaster that happened over 30 years. I started learning a lot about permaculture… I was meeting these people that were doing these projects from around the country, and I’m like, we need that in Detroit. So I came back, and I told the pastor—I’m ready for that community garden now.” She began in 2007 with $10 and a shovel. Spirit Farm now includes a large circular garden, hoop house, cob oven, several raised beds and many more works in progress.
Permaculture doesn’t strip the land of its nutrients or introduce chemicals into the ecosystem. It harmonizes with the environment, utilizing ecological cycles and growth patterns wisely and leads to greater favorability for future harvests. Permaculture leaves no scrap unused and often restores the land while producing—and the food couldn’t taste better.
“I’ve heard that if only half of the people ate half of their food locally, we would keep 5 million dollars a week in Detroit,” says Devlin. “If nothing else it would make us all healthier.”