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From steel engine crates to planters: GM helps community residents grow fresh produce


If you’re going by some of the abandoned parking lots throughout Detroit don’t be surprised if you see a strange sight … community residents picking vegetables from huge steel crates.

GMUrbanGardens07-mediumThose crates came from General Motors and were previously used to ship engines to the automaker’s Orion Assembly plant. Now they serve as planters so community residents can have fresh produce. GM donated 100 of these steel crates to the parking lot gardens. The program transformed once-desolate urban spaces into 1.25 acres of plantings housed in recycled pallets and shipping crates.

The harvest provides food for thousands of underprivileged community members.

Community residents pick the produce free of charge and are encouraged to help water and maintain the gardens. It’s been a huge success. Together with volunteers, they nearly doubled the plantings over last year, yielding 2,400 vegetable and herb plants this summer.

The garden has been so successful it also donated 460 crates to Buckets of Rain, a nonprofit urban farming initiative supporting soup kitchens like the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries and Cass Community Social Services.

GM enlisted several partners to make the effort a success including the garden’s host auto supplier Ideal Group, the nonprofit Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision and numerous schools and youth groups.

GMUrbanGardens05-medium“Projects like this show how engaged and committed the business community is to Detroit’s transformation and to improving the quality of life of its residents,” said Cindy Pasky, chair of the Downtown Detroit Partnership and president and CEO of Strategic Staffing Solutions. “This project, which brings fresh food to the tables of many under privileged families, is also showing our young people how to take responsibility and helping beautify some of our city’s more challenging urban spaces.”

GM also donated 250 crates to Cadillac Urban Gardens in Southwest Detroit. Several organizations helped make that project a reality as well. Detroit Dirt provided urban planning expertise, and Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision created the urban environmental plan. Rush Trucking delivered the GM-donated crates for volunteers from Ideal Group companies, Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation, Detroit Cristo Rey High School and Southwest Detroit residents to begin planting.

“Our vision was to create a space to serve as a tribute to our neighboring Southwest Detroit community,” said Frank Venegas, CEO and chairman of the Ideal Group, in a post on BeyondNow. “We want to showcase their pride, resiliency and strength. Our garden achieves that, and more.  It provides the neighborhood a positive community-togetherness experience, and nutritious and locally grown food.”

GMUrbanGardens03-mediumGM has also contributed to other gardening and sustainability efforts in Detroit. It contributes cafeteria food scraps from Hamtramck Assembly Plant to Detroit Dirt’s compost recipe. The Hamtramck plant also supplies used pallets that hold piles of the enriched soil at the gardens.

“We enjoy connecting with people making a difference through sustainable means,” said John Bradburn, GM waste-reduction manager. “These urban garden initiatives are proof that many items can have a higher purpose after their original use, whether it’s transforming a once-vacant parking lot or the creative reuse of manufacturing packaging.”

In addition, the Green Garage also sought GM’s expertise and “leftovers” when building its 1,000 square-foot rooftop urban garden, RoofTop Farm Detroit. That “farm” provides a weekly delivery of salad greens, small vegetables and edible flowers and herbs to the Motor City Brewing Works restaurant located across the street. GM contributed 90 strong plastic corrugated containers house the plants while 60 foam sheets from its Flint warehouse protect the building’s roof membrane under the planters.

The garden efforts extend beyond growing food. GM also repurposed and donated 85 scrap Chevrolet Volt battery covers from its Brownstown, Mich., battery lab as flower planters to the nonprofit Mary McLeod Bethune Association committed to helping at-risk youth. The association is customizing the covers and using them to beautify Detroit neighborhoods and bus stops.

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4 comments on “From steel engine crates to planters: GM helps community residents grow fresh produce

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