Organization turns vacant Detroit lots into community gardens to promote healthier eating

Peace Tree Parks builds dozens of backyard gardens in Detroit

DETROIT – Detroit's vacant lots are getting a makeover, and what they're being transformed into is making a difference in the community.

In a quiet Midtown neighborhood on 14th Street, there's a clear sign of growth.

"We're kind of embedding ourselves in the community here," Eric Andrews said.

Andrews grew up in the area, and over the years, some of the land has been deserted.

"It was pretty much abandoned," Andrews said. "It was not used at all."

Andrews had a vision for what the neighborhood could be.

"We brainstormed what to do about the land, and what better to do than to farm it?" Andrews asked.

The idea for Peace Tree Parks came to fruition.

"Peace Tree Parks is a nonprofit organization started right here in Detroit with the goal to just encourage citizens to eat healthier," Andrews said.

A once-vacant patch of land was transformed into a community garden.

"We grow fruit," Andrews said. "We have two apple trees, a nectarine tree, a peach tree."

Watermelon, cantaloupe and all kinds of vegetables are also harvested.

"Kale, cabbage and broccoli are the main things we've grown as our cool-weather crops," Andrews said.

The team expanded its reach to more Detroit residents, building dozens of backyard gardens in the city.

"This is our ultimate goal, to have a garden in the backyard of every household in Detroit, because at that point, we feel like that household has been educated to the benefits of growing their own food," Andrews said.

He has a big team behind him, including his family, friends and volunteers. They're taking on a hefty load to maintain the gardens and ultimately creating an urban farming environment for neighbors to pick their own produce.

"We do it all free of charge," Andrews said. "We don't want to take anything from anyone. We just want to give, educate, and we want to provide."

Margie Hackett lives across the street from the garden.

"I like it a lot, and it's nice to see vegetables growing," Hackett said. "It makes the whole area really, really nice."

Hackett said she believes the community is reaping the benefits of the garden.

"I see people get out more and walk around, so it's a safer neighborhood," Hackett said.

Peace Tree Parks teams up with other organizations to make sure none of the food goes to waste.

"We're going to wash them, bundle them up, rubber-band them and donate them straight to the Detroit Rescue Mission," Andrews said. "We feel like that's where they'll make the biggest impact."

Andrews said he plans to continue to grow the organization.

"We've still got a long way to go, as you can see, but our goal is to turn this into a complete farm, right here in the city of Detroit," Andrews said. "That's our goal."

The group is well on its way, already buying more land in the city.

"Next, we're going to attack the North End, and then we've also acquired five pieces of land on Mack on the east side," Andrews said.

The workers want to provide more access to fresh produce and spread education across Detroit.

"That's one of our main goals is just to bridge the gap and encourage people to grow their own food," Andrews said.

Andrews believes Peace Tree Parks will spur an organic change in the landscape and mindsets of Detroit residents for years to come.

"I'm a true Detroiter," Andrews said. "I'm from here. I'm true. My son will grow here, and this is not for me, it's for him. It's for his generation, ultimately."


About the Authors:

Koco joined the Local 4 News team in September of 2016. She was born and raised in Metro Detroit, attended Central Michigan University, and previously worked at WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids.

Derick is a Senior Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.