19 July 2013

Summer 2013 MICHIGAN Kalamazoo 1 - Tip Toe Through the Gardens

I have been part of an effort to start a community garden in downtown Kalamazoo since 2004. We are very close. Last week Downtown Kalamazoo Inc helped finalize a lease from the City of Kalamazoo for a small plot at the corner of Eleanor and North Burdick. The Kalamazoo Community Foundation presented us with a grant of $1,000 for start-up costs. Tom Shuster (of Shuster Electric) and I contributed another $500 each toward these costs. And Tom and Will Derouin of Western Michigan's Sustainability Office are heading up construction. Central City Community Garden (CCCG) finally seems a reality. More on this later. 

There are about 30 community gardens in Kalamazoo County. They are of every size and variety. To learn more about how community gardens operate and succeed, I participated in a community garden tour today which was sponsored by Common Ground (www.CommonGroundKalamazoo.com) and the Kalamazoo County Land Bank. The Land Bank acquires land through tax abandonment and changes these blighted properties into affordable housing opportunities to help stabilize property values.

We met at Riverview Launch, a new Kalamazoo Land Bank project to revive a greenhouse, barn, and lands along the Kalamazoo River. There was a choice of an inner city bike tour or an "outer" city bus tour. I chose the bus tour (as I don't own a bike). The bus tour included five different garden venture. Here we go...

DeLano Farms at The Kalamazoo Nature Center is an educational sustainable working farm. It offers a Community Support Agriculture (CSA) program, where shareholders pay up front for their share of the harvest. Shareholders may also volunteer their time to work on the farm. I understand, as a shareholder, one used to just pick up their box of veggies. Now each week shareholders choose what foods they prefer in a market style atmosphere. It also has a cool labyrinth with fennel at its heart.

Also, so my first Daddy Long Legs spider in decades. One was climbing on my foot (minor freak out at first glance) and then saw one scampering down the roadside. I tried to get a photo, but no luck. I am a spider-a-phobe, but for some reason these guys seem kinda OK. Last time I saw one was when I was a teen maybe, but then I'm a pavement person. These are good guy spiders, so glad to see they are still around.

Willard Street Rain Garden was built as part of a transformative block project. Two blighted houses were torn down and new houses were built in the style of the old time neighborhood. The block is on a little hill and curb cuts were made so that rainwater does not go into the sewer, but diverts into wild flower gardens planted between the street and sidewalk. Downspout runoffs were also added to the new houses which also diverts water into two other sunken garden areas. Pretty slick! This project inspired neighbors to build nearby raised veggie beds on a vacant lot, and more beautiful flower gardens between sidewalks and curbs.

Continued tomorrow.

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If you have visited any of these places, we would love to hear your comments. Or send us recommendations of places we should not miss.