Shipherd Greens is a community garden in Detroit, on two empty plots in a residential neighbourhood. It is run entirely by volunteers from the neighbourhood. In this case study, Rosie Sharp, who coordinates the garden talks about how the garden is run (and funded) and some of the challenges of this sort of project. This case study is part of research into financial and business models for temporary use projects, which is funded by a grant from the Creative Industries Fund NL (Dutch).
Read the full case study on issuu here, or scroll down…
The business of temporary use – case study Practice Space by Killing Architects is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Shipherd Greens was started by a woman named Lisa Richter who was really a strong advocate for urban gardening. She worked at Earth Works [a local urban farm with a training programme for farmers] and lives in the neighbourhood and started the garden in 2007 or 2008. In 2011, Lisa took off to do her own thing and there was a leadership void at the garden. In 2012, I decided to take point on organising, actively leading the garden. I’m not the boss of the garden. I just coordinate a lot of the pieces.
Spring in the garden
There’s really work intensive periods with gardening and then stuff grows on its own. There’s a big push in spring to get things going. You pull the cover off the garden. You want to aerate the soil so you’re going to dig everything up and make it loose. If you have compost or a compost pile, you’re going to add compost in. Every spring we do a big work day where we do a neighbourhood clean up. The last 2 years, the East Jefferson Community Corridor group has paid for a wood chipper. It makes mulch for the garden and also cleans up the whole area. That’s all happening in the spring.
Prior to the spring planting season, you make transplant starters. Michigan has these long winters, so it’s a way to get a jump on the growing season. I do transplants on my own and I keep a seed bank for myself and the garden to make the starters, but I also use the garden resource program [from Keep Growing Detroit]. We enrol in that and we know we’re going to get seeds, but they also give you starters. If my starters totally fail because I don’t have a greenhouse, we’ll have something to plant in the garden. That’s all March. The last frost date here is usually in the first week of May, but April is a time that you can start putting in cold crops. I always put stuff in early trying to get ahead of the season, especially with seeds and stuff, just to see if they’ll make it.
Usually by mid-June we’re into growing. Once you get rolling into summer, you’re doing a lot of harvesting and basic maintenance. Wednesday night is garden night, but of course the garden is open. Once people have come and are oriented at the garden, they’re encouraged to come work on their own. The people who mow [the grass] – it’s just someone who comes over and mows. It’s never during the work night. From week to week, you always get a different set [of people].
October 5 is our work day to put the garden to bed [for the winter]. We’re going to paint all the woodwork with linseed oil to help preserve it. We’re going to take up some weeds around the base of the tree benches and mulch inside there so that weeds don’t come up as much, that kind of stuff.
Winter is when you do a lot of planning, when I have more time to deal with it.
The amount of time that poeple put into the garden. There is a big spike in spring to get the garden going and then a smaller one in autumn to close down for winter; the garden requires very little time in winter, when most of the planning takes place.
This year was great because it was a really rainy year, so we didn’t have to do a lot of watering. That is a huge challenge for our community garden because there’s no water hookup. Last year was a drought year and there was this nightmare where the garden couldn’t even get on its feet. So we were running hoses. Someone has to bring them from their house and run them across the street to water the garden. It’s a pain in the ass. Everything died because you really need to be watering twice a day on those hot days, and nobody is going to do that. We don’t have a secure facility at the garden, so we can’t leave the hoses over there. This year we put a water catchment system in and that’s been helpful. At least we have some water on the property and you can run it in buckets. It’s not a huge farm, so it’s feasible to do it that way. We have a work day scheduled next week when we’re going to put more rain barrels on the water catchment and expand the system.
The water catchment probably cost about $180 all together. That included 2 rain barrels, four 4x4s for the frames and 2x4s for the top of it, a tarpaulin, a weight, a rope, some PVC piping pieces and little hookups and some netting and the little gutter capture; that’s the thing that water comes down into like a spigot and some cinder blocks. Then separately from what we budgeted for that, we spent another maybe $60 on those lattice pieces that are covering it, that have morning glories growing up. I’m trying to be sensitive to the aesthetics of the neighbourhood. It needs to look nice.
[There is a lot immediately adjacent to the garden with a derelict house on it.] If we could get that property, the water hookup is still there because the house is still there. Then they just have to turn on the water so we could have water, although actually, the pipes could be all broken, who knows. But the ground hookup still exists. [It costs $1200 to get a water connection for a property.] Maybe this is an investment that the water department is willing to make. If you subsidise getting water hookups for gardens, this represents an economic boon to Detroit. If these are production farms that are going to pay property taxes, business taxes, maybe it’s worth it for them to split the cost with us of hooking up water, because what we can produce as a farm is going to be exponentially more if we can water the garden. [It would also be good if the garden didn’t have to] pay sewage since [the waste water is] not going back into the system the way that it is when you flush the toilet.
This year we were really lucky. There was a lot of rain. It’s not that way every year.
Building the garden
You don’t realise how much soil it takes for the beds until you start filling up these boxes. They’re big boxes, and you’re filling these boxes with dirt and over the years you’re building up your soil layers. The ones I have in my back yard are the size of a pickup truck bed or higher. That’s the build phase of the garden. There’s a point hopefully in the next couple of years where we wont need to bring in outside soil any more and we’re just adding compost to keep the organic matter levels up.
Previously it had been all community beds. There’s 8 beds at the centre and those are community beds. That’s where I put our plant starters. Those are everyone’s responsibility and that’s where people can take stuff out. If stuff is really stacking up, I take it to market.
At the start of this season, we made the decision that, if people wanted their own garden bed, they could have it. At the perimeter, are now 6 more individual beds. Once you have your bed, you can do whatever you want with it. Alex just wanted to do tomatoes and onions and lettuce. Nicole and Adam built a little cityscape of bean poles and all this crazy stuff in theirs. It looks great.
Giving people individual beds did really pay off. People are much more invested when they have control over something. I think that also paves the way for somewhere down the line saying, if you want a bed, it’s $10 – trying to get the garden to pay for itself without me having to grant write. Now that we’re starting to sell to market, it is feasible. It doesn’t take a lot of money. We need maybe $3-400 a year if we want to bring in soil for various projects.
Organising the garden
I would say that there are 3 to 4 people who are really keen on the organising. Then there’s probably a group of 10 regulars who are going to carry out projects beyond just working in the garden. In the previous years before there was a big pick up, it was me and Bayard and Bayard’s partner, Linda; the 3 of us who would make decisions about the garden and carry them out. We have monthly planning meetings where we talk more higher level planning about what we want to see happen, or raise stuff like work days. They’re in the CDC office.
We formed an LLC for the garden, mainly to protect the people at the garden from getting sued for someone being hurt there, because we can’t control who’s at the garden or what they do there. We talked this year about creating a board for the LLC, but there’s not that much point in us making a huge administrative push if we aren’t really holding anything.
Assuming we can get ownership of the property, the idea is to secure it as a garden site for the future. Ideally, at the point where we formed a board, the idea is to put in the by-laws that it should remain a community garden in perpetuity. The city’s planning and development department, PD&D, owns the property. The garden is on 2 lots and my understanding is that vacant lots sell for between 200 and $250 a piece, vacant, which is what they’re coded as because if we weren’t there, that’s what they would be. It should, in theory, be no more than $500. Because it’s city owned, there shouldn’t be back taxes due on them.
Time spent on organising
Again, it varies week to week. There are weeks where I’m writing grants and doing stuff and I might put in 10 hours of garden stuff or I have to deal with the city, that’s hours. If I’m putting in a land sale application, I petition neighbours about letters of support. I would say I maybe put in 60 hours over the course of a season doing admin stuff, writing emails. Then there’s those organisational meetings, so maybe another 6 hours of planning meetings that everybody attends, everybody who is interested.
This last winter I took a class called Urban Roots which is a training program for community garden organisers, another arm of [Keep Growing Detroit’s] programming. They talked about how to community organise, which was helpful. When I took over the garden I looked up online how to organise a community garden – I went and googled it. The first thing that came up was ‘assess the need’. Does there need to be a community garden here? That’s huge. If the community wants it, they will support it. Someone is going to have to do the work, but either the community embraces that or they will go vandalise your garden and tear up your plants and not give you money and call the cops on you when you’re on a lot you’re not supposed to be on. If you’re a welcome addition to the neighbourhood, then there will be support for it. There are a few people who press $40 into my hand and they’re like, “For the garden.”
Funding for the garden
We’re still in this expansion phase. There’s a point we’re reaching pretty soon where it’s just maintenance. Then the cost goes way down. It’s $25 a year to register the LLC, to renew that. It’s $25 a year for the garden resource programme, which makes it really easy as far as the seeds and plants go. That’s an outrageously good deal. If we had to buy seeds, we would have to budget differently. Then it’s reasonable to assume that we’re going to put a couple hundred dollars in compost, because our compost is not high production yet.
The first year that I took over, I applied for and got a grant for beds and benches from a church, Genesis Hope, which was doing a neighbourhood improvement. We were going to build a little bandstand and water catchment but you can’t get permits for that if you don’t own the property. We may in the end go forward with it anyway because we’re done waiting on stuff. I just have to proceed and say that one day we will own the property.
I just put together our [financial] records for a grant. The Villages CDC gave us $600 this year. We have about $300 in the bank. [The outgoings for the year to date]: We have lumber costs for the water attachments that we built. I had lunch at the Cass Café which was the fee for the artist, Robert Sestok, who built that statue for us. Reluctantly he let me buy him lunch. I went and got compost at SOCRA, a big compost site. Our big compost dump was from Detroit Home and Gardens – $224 in compost – which we also split with the neighbour, George, who lives right next to the garden and has this amazing garden of his own. I sometimes try and leverage garden assets to help other community members. George is an amazing source of garden information. He comes out to help a lot even though he’s 89 or so.
The Villages CDC has landed some million dollar grants to do home rehabilitation, taking really messed up houses and redoing them to be affordable living. They have a bunch of initiatives to bring up certain neighbourhoods, stabilising the neighbourhoods basically. For them, $600 is a negligible amount – ours is called a clean and safe grant. You can go for big official grants, but actually, a grant is just a proposal that somebody give you money. The West Village Association, which is our neighbours’ association, they give us $100 a year just for stuff. They raise money through membership and then they’re like, ‘what should we do with this?’ and I’m like, ‘I know what you should you do.’
Some little organisations support us. I tend to think of my contribution as being gas money as I drive around all the time doing stuff for the garden. Bayard and Linda, they always do a couple hundred for the garden. Either they’re buying lumber for something, lawn mower gas, or just whatever.
Expanding the garden?
There’s things that I think would be great for the community garden, like keeping bees, that are not going to happen on that site because they would interfere with common usage. There are people who want to compost. There are clearly people in the neighbourhood, especially the apartment buildings up there who bring their food scraps. They just need a place for it. Compost is one of those things much like bee keeping where you also need more people who are committed regularly [in order to do the work that’s involved].
There is that abandoned house property next to [the garden] which is owned by a guy in the neighbourhood. If we could buy the garden sites and get this guy eventually to sell us his property and then that could become almost a greenhouse facility – those are very big dreams and long term projects. We could do some row crops out behind his house, expand more farm wise.
Selling at market
This was the first year that we experimented with [selling food grown at the community garden at market]. I was an apprentice with the Greening of Detroit and part of our training was helping run the Grown In Detroit table [a stall at the Eastern Market where micro-producers can sell their produce in small quantities]. I never thought of what was growing here as being on a scale that it could make any money so [if it hadn’t been for the apprenticeship] I never would’ve thought to go to this orientation where they teach you things like, “Here’s how you wash and pack vegetables. Here’s our standards and here’s what is costs, here’s what we’re selling for”, that kind of stuff. I haven’t taken a lot of produce to market from Shipherd Greens because I see it as a community thing.
I got the soil test done at the garden and so I represent both my own garden and the community one at the GID tables. I’ve been bringing mostly stuff from my house but there was a day that I was taking in kale anyway and there was a bunch of kale. I harvested it and from doing that maybe $8 would be going to the garden. This is really the first year I’m experimenting with it and how much time I have to deal with it. If somebody wants to be the market person, we can formalise that process.
The farmer’s market at Genesis Hope Church is much closer. Their tables cost $10 apiece so if someone at the garden wanted to start representing Shipherd Greens at that market, we could talk about that. At this point, we still have enough in our cash reserve that we could support a once a month trip to the market if somebody wants to be in charge of that.
The garden seels a very small amount of its produce – irregularly and only when there is a surplus, but it was never intended to run commercially. It therefore relies on grants and donations to meet the small annual expenditure.
How much food can you produce in 16 beds?
A lot. I find the idea of producing food for a family [as a measure for how big the garden is] to be a little bit abstract because obviously you eat more than fresh vegetables. Most gardens go by weight, to see how much food you produce. You’re weighing out the poundage that you’re harvesting either to sell or to eat or whatever. Nobody does that for Shipherd Greens because people have their individual gardens now so I’m not going to say to them, “You’ve got to weigh your produce.” It’s open so people from the community take things, which I am totally in favour of.