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April 1, 2013

Hazel Park begins work on new community garden

Expert gardeners will help guide land’s development

By Andy Kozlowski
C & G Staff Writer

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The city of Hazel Park is planning a new community garden, spanning 32,000 square feet across three vacant lots opposite the Hazel Park Public Schools Administration Building.

HAZEL PARK — The city of Hazel Park owns about 100 vacant lots. Left alone, they can drive down property values, becoming eyesores that repel potential residents and attract a seedier sort.

That’s why the city wants to see them put to better use. Transforming them into community gardens that allow residents to create their own fresh food is one such way.

Already, there is a community garden at Kennedy Park, established several years ago. Now the city is planning a second garden, utilizing three vacant lots, which could serve as a model for more to come.

The three lots are on Merrill Street between East Elza and Milton, across the street from the Hazel Park Public Schools Administration Building. Together, they span roughly 32,000 square feet.

Some residents already started planting on the lots last year. Now the city is donating the land to the cause and enlisting the help of expert gardeners to help guide residents as they continue to work the land.

“We’re hoping to build on what they did last year and really increase the scale, and also involve as many members of the community as possible,” said Joe Tangari, assistant planner for the city of Hazel Park.

“We do have some very experienced gardeners working on the project, but we also want people who have never gardened before to come learn. It’s an all-ages thing — we’re not going to restrict it at all. Anyone who wants to participate can do so.”

Everyone works on the garden as a whole — there are no individual plots — and those who participate in this collective effort will be entitled to a bit of the harvest.

The rest will go to local churches and food distribution programs to feed the needy. Some day, if the garden grows enough, the city may establish a farmer’s market to sell a portion of the crops at a low price — the proceeds helping support the garden operation.

There will be a wide variety of vegetables, as well as some herbs and flowers. The new community garden will serve as an example of how to create a thriving garden in one’s neighborhood, and the hope is that other residents will take it upon themselves to start smaller gardens on their own block.

“Our vision is this will be a model for local food production,” Tangari said.

Helping to lead the way is Charles Lisee, a Hazel Park resident and urban studies student at Wayne State University. As part of the SEED Wayne project at WSU, he has worked on sustainable food systems on campus and around Detroit. He’s now applying his urban agricultural know-how to Hazel Park, as the manager of the garden project.

Also, several residents have volunteered to steward plants in their own homes, growing them to the point where they’ll be ready for transplanting when the garden has its official groundbreaking sometime in May, once the weather breaks after the last frost.

All of the seeds are donated. Tangari said the city also received some generous monetary donations that will cover a few other project expenses.

Sareen Papakhian, one of the project managers alongside Lisee, said there are many benefits to the community garden.

“Green spaces reduce crime in the area — they increase the amount of people watching over the area, since the neighbors feel attachment to it, since they’re taking part in the land’s production,” Papakhian said.

“Green space is also pleasing to the eye, reducing stress to people living in an urban area, and adding beauty to the community overall,” she said. “It increases property values by improving the aesthetics of the area and reducing blight. And it improves the ecology of the area by filtering storm water and such.

“And this is just a demonstration garden,” Papakhian said. “Our hope is to have other residents take what they learn in this garden and spread it around, increasing a sense of community ownership and environmental stewardship.”

To find out how you can contribute to the community garden, call (248) 546-4061 or email hazelparkcommunitygarden@hazel park.org.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Andy Kozlowski at akozlowski@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1104.