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William tending to his vegetables at the Edgeton Community Garden.

Food Voices: The Interviews

William Gardener, Farmer
Detroit, Michigan

In 2008, William started gardening in his backyard. He now has a total of 1.4 acres and runs the EdgetonCommunityGarden. He grows a variety of fruits, herbs and vegetables; keeps bees; and, raises egg laying and meat producing chickens. He plans on expanding.
 
I got into gardening in 2008. I started with my family garden and it took off from there. Once I started I couldn’t stop. The Edgeton Community Garden I started in 2009 and then I moved into a bigger plot behind my house. I grow everything from beets to turnips to potatoes to herbs. We try to do a little bit of everything. I’m trying to have biodiversity, incorporating the bees and really having a mixture of crops and having it look nice for the neighbourhood and have people feel proud about being a part of that.

I never grew up on a farm. It just made sense one day. I was a computer operator, so I was working at a desk at an office. I didn’t get any sunlight. I was working there three years and it was a pretty lax job and just watching the You Tube videos of food and where it comes from and what’s going on with the food movements. It just made more sense to start utilizing my space to grow a certain percentage of my food. This seemed like the first step I could make to being in power and taking back my life. If you would have told me four years ago that I was going to be doing any type of farming or I’d be doing it on this level, I would have laughed and bet you how every much money I had in my pocket. Its funny how things turn out and how you change that quick. I love it. I love being outside now. It is so peaceful. I just drift off in my thoughts. It’s cool.

It takes a lot of hard work of where our food comes from and we really need to pay attention and be more aware of that. It is amazing how far we’ve drifted from being close to our basic necessities. We don’t do a little small garden no more. I just want to be an example in my neighborhood of being able to grow food in a way that looks nice.

The space in the back is where I really want to do the farm and try to do the market back there and make it a nice place for schools to come and see what’s going on. Be a template for other neighborhoods. This is a way we can change our neighborhoods, really create the small economy in our neighborhood with the vacant land that we have so much of. It just takes time and organizing. I am not trying to get rich, but I would like to live comfortably and eat good foods. If you have the drive, then more power to you.

Occasionally the neighbors will come out – a few. It is a lot of elderly people. I started a block club. I told them what I wanted to do and told them I know y’all ain’t going to be able to help physically, but just help when you can. They get out there and they water and harvest the vegetables when they need to be. Right now I’ve got the kids helping and trying to get them more interested in it. The kids see where the eggs come from and see the hens lay them and how they come out different colors. I’m fairly young, so they think I am kind of hip, still. I’m trying to show that it is cool to do and you don’t have to change your lifestyle too much, but work a lot harder. In a way, we are in a new generation.

When I had the collard greens out, the kids said “can my grandmother get this” or “can we get that.” Let me show you how to pick it. It just takes a little education and then bam, everybody is following the rules and they are having a good time out there picking. It feels good and I want to continue doing that and show that this is a way we can change our neighborhood. Slowly, this is one way we can start beautifying our neighborhoods again. I would like to start work with the surrounding organizations or be able to go to markets and employ people in the neighborhood. Really try to kick off with this urban farming thing. Really try to bring that relationship back into the community of us just being a community.

The food that I grow in the community garden is pretty much up for grabs. Even though they don’t help, I want them to eat healthy and see where it comes from. So, I don’t mind putting in that work, but if it’s getting ready to go to waste, I’ll start bundling it up for market – Eastern Market or Wayne State Market, making a few dollars. It’s nothing major. It’s not paying bills. It’s paying for gas.  It takes sacrifices, but I figure eventually it’ll pay off and that’s what I’m counting on. That people will get more interested over the years. Its not going to happen over night and that’s what a lot of people look for – that instant gratification. It’s a process we have to go through and I have to show them that it takes hard work, but there are benefits. You save money and gas. Relationships. The people in the neighborhood come and you talk. Just having that vibe together. I see it paying off. A lot of people respect the garden. I don’t have vandalism in there. I see the respect and if we can do this more, it will make a change.

I just hope that people who see this or hear this get inspired. All over the world this is happening. Detroit is just one place that is getting a lot of attention. But, definitely, I hope you know that people inspire me and I hope I can inspire other people to start being conscious and lets take back our food.