The Garden Resource Program is focused on greening up the Motor City and improving access to healthy foods.
man and woman in front of garden
Credit: Roy Ritchie

At 139 square miles, Detroit is massive—big enough to fit Boston, Manhattan and San Francisco inside it. But ever since the city's car industry boom in the 1950s was followed by a bust that culminated with the city filing for bankruptcy in 2013, what stands out among its sprawling landscape are tens of thousands of abandoned homes and decrepit lots.

Enter the Garden Resource Program (GRP). Founded in 2003, the organization's aim is to help Detroiters green up their city (and grow their own food) by providing them with the resources to plant gardens. "One of the best things about the program is that it travels by word of mouth,'" says Lindsay Pielack, co-director of Keep Growing Detroit, which oversees the GRP. "And it's continuing to reach new Detroiters."

What They Did

For a small membership fee ($15 for families and $30 for schools, communities and market gardeners) participants receive everything they need to set up and tend to a garden. This includes in-person design advice plus materials, such as seeds, vegetable trans- plants, compost and raised beds. And this help is in high demand: "We give about 200,000 transplants and 50,000 seed packs to gardeners throughout the year," says Akello Karamoko, a farmer and staff member at Keep Growing Detroit. Members also have access to a tool-sharing program and dozens of educational classes led by GRP staff and guest teachers, from Improving Soils for Crop Quality & Yield and Introduction to Beekeeping to Pickling & Fermentation and East African Cooking.

Why It's Cool

In its founding year, the GRP helped start 80 urban gardens. By 2019, that number rose to more than 1,500 gardens and farms involving 25,000 gardeners. "They've dramatically advanced the use of vacant land for agriculture," says Joel Howrani Heeres, director of Detroit's Office of Sustainability and a GRP program member himself. And Detroit's landscape isn't the only beneficiary: "We've done research with Michigan State about how gardening can impact health outcomes," Pielack says. "Half of GRP members surveyed said their garden provided the majority of fruits and vegetables they consumed during the growing season. And gardening also provided physical activity, stress relief, relaxation and a source of joy.

This story originally appeared in EatingWell Magazine July/August 2020.