Along Michigan Ave., across the street from Ford Motor Company’s Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, there’s quite a bit of organized activity. Although the exact location is on the grounds of UAW-Ford’s Local 900, it’s not the kind of activity you might think.
Thanks to the efforts of one union member and her friends, a 20-ft. by 30-ft. parcel is going to generate free fresh fruit, flowers and greenery for U.S. veterans.
Vickie Miller has worked at Michigan Assembly for more than 23 years. She has put in quite a bit of time at the plant and says she loves her job, but even more, she feels one of her passions is helping people. Particularly, she has taken on a personal mission of working to help everyone live a healthier life and make better choices when they sit down at the dinner table.
“It’s a God-given right to enjoy healthy, fresh foods … they should be available for everyone,” said Miller. “It’s not about money all of the time. It’s about helping people.” She channeled that health passion into a local organization called Eating Gardens.
Her non-profit organization started the sowing, growing and feeding effort after a chance meeting at the Belleville farmer’s market back in 2013. She was there, searching for a jalapeno pepper, but ended up walking away with a new friend. She started up a conversation with a fellow fresh food traveler, Shane Celeste, and found almost immediately they shared similar passions. Shane, a permaculture designer, was already knee-deep in proactive gardening and also wanted to help others.
Miller then contacted longtime friend Javon Gatewood and convinced her to make the trio complete and Eating Gardens was born. After planning and conversations, they focused on a purpose of cultivating farms and gardens with the support of communities and preserving the environment.
It just so happened that Miller’s family had purchase a 20-acre plot of land in Belleville many years ago. Before she passed away, her mother made Vickie promise to not let the land go to waste. A two-acre slice of this much larger plot has become the cornerstone of their outreach program.
The group began working with area schools, students and members of the community to work the land. Their positive work drew the attention of area business owners and individuals, who donated all of the supplies needed for the garden.
Vickie also approached her employer Ford for a donation – of cardboard. What does cardboard have to do with gardening, you might ask?
More than 2,000 donated pieces of recycled material were used for transplants, composting and sheet mulching.
As word spread, her union also caught wind of what Eating Gardens was up to and did a feature story on the program in the UAW-Ford Community magazine. “Having the backing of my union and our president, Mr. (Jimmy) Setttles gave me the encouragement to take my goals to another level,” Vickie said.
The Local also allowed Vickie and the Eating Gardens team to start up a garden on their property. The plot once had a much smaller garden on it, but nothing like what is being developed now. The only condition placed on the use of the land was that it would specifically benefit veterans, a significant population among the union membership.
Vickie was excited to be able to use the land and to find a way to support veterans. Members of her family served in the armed forces.
“My father was a veteran of the Korean War and my brother-in-law also served. They would tell me stories from their time in the service and I always wanted to find a way to give back to them,” she said.
The flowers and produce generated by the garden will be offered to veteran union members at no charge. Veterans will also be a part of working the land and will eventually be able to enjoy the garden – sitting on benches that will be installed this year. Although the garden space is small, it is designed to be wheelchair accessible as well.
Army veteran Ramone Davis has rolled up his sleeves and pitched in. He is a Michigan Assembly line worker who served in the Middle East. “When I got back home, I wanted to find a way to help other veterans,” he said.
Strawberries, garlic, oregano, beans, peas, tomatoes, flowers and eggplants are being planted and will yield a good amount of fresh produce for veterans, all at no cost to them. There will also be artwork installed on the pocket park site, adding to the aesthetic appeal.
For more information on Eating Gardens or the UAW-Ford veterans garden, visit the organization’s website.