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MGM Grand garden has roots in downtown Detroit, promotes food sovereignty in Detroit

Photo Jul 10, 10 19 33 AM

When you think of MGM Grand Detroit casino, broccoli, cabbage, kale and onions may not be the first things that come to mind. But, thanks to a partnership with Keep Growing Detroit, those fruits, veggies and more are popping up in an urban agriculture garden space in downtown Detroit.

MGM garden takes up 1.8 acres near the casino on Plum Street

MGM garden takes up 1.8 acres near the casino on Plum Street

The Plum Street Market Garden, as it is called, is located at Plum and Third streets, near the casino complex. Not exactly the bastion of the green thumb, that’s for sure. But, traveling the area, the beautiful flowers and rows of tomatoes and parsley stick out. There’s no denying something is going on on this plot of newly-fertile earth.

The nearly two-acre parcel produces 20 varieties of fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers. All of this is in the shadows of one of the city’s premier recreational/entertainment spots. The garden has been in development for five years, has received an infusion of hundreds of thousands of dollars (thanks to MGM) and was just unveiled in all of its green glory recently.

“This project supports our mission of promoting food sovereignty in the city,” said Ashley Atkinson, co-director of Keep Growing Detroit. “Our goal is to have the majority of the fruits and vegetables Detroiters consume grown within the city limits. Food grown for Detroiters, by Detroiters.”

MGM Grand Detroit President and COO Steve Zanella in the Plum Street Garden

MGM Grand Detroit President and COO Steve Zanella in the Plum Street Garden

MGM Grand Detroit COO and President Steve Zanella says the garden is an investment in a healthy future for Detroit. “This project is part of our responsibility as good neighbors in Detroit. This is great to support people being able to grow their own food and build a sustainable community.”

MGM has invested more than $600,000 in the project to date and plans to continue planting, growing and supporting the effort. Zanella added even MGM employees (team members) get involved.

“Each week on Tuesday, our team members can come out and learn how to garden and actually help,” he says. “We are happy with what we have done here so far. Our goal is to produce 400,000 transplants this year.”

The output of the garden and greenhouses is seeds and transplants that are then used by local farmers to grow produce.

As a part of a health employee program, Zanella has arranged for a weekly fresh food market at MGM for team members through Wellness Coaches USA. A Detroit Eastern Market Farm Stand at the facility on Thursdays is one of the largest corporate farm stands in the city and sells out nearly every week.

Keep Growing Detroit Co-Director Ashley Atkinson shows of heirloom tomatoes

Keep Growing Detroit Co-Director Ashley Atkinson shows off heirloom tomatoes

The garden serves as a sort of green classroom as well. Between 60 and 80 community classes are held at the site throughout the year, according to Atkinson.

“There are currently about 20,000 Detroiters involved in gardening through our organization,” she said. “Our goal is to double that participation. This urban garden, funded by MGM, is a huge help in supporting a sustainable Detroit.”

Using the “I do, we do, you do” model of instruction, anyone in the community can learn gardening skills during two-hour, hands-on classes. From novice to expert, there are tips for the curious on planting, growing and harvesting produce and flowers.

Transplant specialist Willie Spivey prepares soil for planting

Transplant specialist Willie Spivey prepares soil for planting

The seeds and transplants grown at the site are provided to approximately 1,400 gardens and farmers in the city through Keep Growing Detroit’s Garden Resource Program. Some of the food grown ends up being sold at locations across the city like Detroit’s Eastern Market and directly to local restaurants. All of the proceeds from the project are reinvested into the garden and other community-based training programs.

According to organizers, those participating in the resource program learn about and also consume more healthy foods. Atkinson says participants consume about 2.5 more servings of fruits and vegetables than average Detroiters.

Eastern Market Farm Stand

Eastern Market Farm Stand

Although just unveiled to the public, the garden has already had quite a bit of success. In 2013 alone, nearly 200 tons of fresh produce were harvested as a result of seeds and transplants from the garden. Future plans include more produce output, as well as expanded production and a new composting area on the parcel.

Crops grown at the Plum Street Market Garden at MGM include: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, leeks, lettuce, various types of onions, potatoes, strawberries, basil, eggplant, parsley, peppers and heirloom tomatoes.

The Plum Street Market Garden will be the site of a fund raiser on Sunday, September 7 for Keep Growing Detroit. The “rent party” will feature a tour of the garden and greenhouses, dj’s, food and dancing.

For more information on the garden, classes or the event on September 7, visit the Keep Growing Detroit website at

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