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Rabbit Holes, Paris & Detroit…Lafayette Greens Continues to Bloom!

Alice may have had to follow a white rabbit, but Detroiters need only step through a gate to feel as if they too have gone down a rabbit hole. Or, rather, into a rabbit’s dream home.

Nearly a year ago, on Wednesday, August 31, 2011, Compuware celebrated the official opening of its urban garden, Lafayette Greens, with—what better—a garden party.

Right in the heart of the downtown, surrounded by the beautiful architecture of historical buildings, attendees strolled garden paths surrounded by heirloom fruit-bearing trees, lined with the leafy foliage of cabbages and squash, and peppered with colorful blooms. Along with live music, guests were treated to fresh lemonade and delicious appetizers…tasty treats made with the actual produce grown by the gardeners who brought this wonderful new addition to our neighborhood.

The Garden was designed by Beth Hagenbuch of Kenneth Weikal Landscape Architecture. Tom Michals, a Compuware employee who also runs Motave Meadows with his wife Eva, worked with Megan Heeres, Art Curator and Community Art and Garden Program Manager at Compuware, to help bring this community garden to Detroit.  Lafayette Greens, like Michals’s own farm, is a raised-bed garden on a three quarter of an acre plot of land.  At the Grand Opening, Rachelle Bonelli of Gleaners Community Food Bank, which benefitted from the first season’s produce, said this little plot of land—previously home to the 14-story Lafayette building—will “help to feed a half a million people.” On July 31st of this year, Lafayette Greens announced that they had harvested and sent “142 pounds [of produce] to Gleaners Community Food Bank in one day!”

In his remarks at the Grand Opening, Mayor Dave Bing said that this “can surely be replicated” as we think about “what our city can be.”

Which echoes what Michals told me about how he got started with his own farm and why he was so enthused about the Lafayette Greens project: Anyone can do it. You just start small, which is how all farms start. At first you may be able to grow only enough to feed your family. But as time goes on, you have enough to share with neighbors. And with each new season of crops, this circle, like the garden itself, grows.  Michals explained to me that he got started with raised-bed gardens because the soil on his land isn’t conducive to growing anything but weeds—and weed-killer doesn’t fit in with the organic gardening both his farm and Lafayette Greens practice.   With raised beds, gardens can spring up on any soil or surface: and Lafayette Greens is only the first of just such community garden projects that feed out city—literally and figuratively.

At the Grand Opening, Cheryl P. Johnson, CEO of COTS, told me that not only does Gleaners provide food to her organization, but that after seeing Lafayette Greens, she was already thinking about bringing the children that are a part of the COTS program to the Compuware Urban Garden for fieldtrips. In April of this year, Lafayette Greens partnered with Big Brothers Big Sisters in a project where the youth created and then planted Compost ‘Sock’ Monsters in the gardens.

Young people will be especially thrilled with the “Children’s Garden.” This elevated space is described on the garden map as “an oasis of discovery in the city [where] themed planters connect children and adults to the natural world, offering an ever changing educational backdrop in food, nutrition, science, history, math, and language.” Whoever wrote the description certainly got it right – children and adults will love this circular area filled with endless colorful discoveries and even little games to play hidden among the plants. I certainly do.

During the Grand Opening, Compuware Executive Chairman Peter Karmanos Jr. mentioned that Detroit was “once called the Paris of the Midwest.”

Detroit…Paris?

How this could have been and how it could be again is immediately obvious to those who stand in this geometrically unique park that’s laid out so that you feel at once both bohemian and also strangely sophisticated as you stroll paths with the city skyline looming up around you.

Even if you aren’t a Master Gardener, like Karmanos, who reiterated at the Grand Opening that a “sense of community is embedded in Compuware’s culture,” you can volunteer simply by going to the garden, which is open to the public Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.  And, located at the intersections of Michigan and Shelby and Lafayette, it’s right in the heart of the Downtown district and just a 5-minute walk from The Lofts of Merchants Row.

But you don’t have to go there to work. You can go simply to relax and enjoy a beautiful park that is also a sustainable and productive garden.  So, bring a visitor, bring your kids, or just bring yourself and enjoy walking the paths or sitting on the benches that line them. Just be sure to get over to Lafayette Greens to check out this magical spot soon!

The public can enjoy the park Mondays through Fridays from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m. (until November, when the Greens are open from 9 to 5) and volunteers can learn or practice their skills on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m.

Posted on August 15th, 2012 in: Detroit Giving Back, Detroit Landmarks, Detroit Outdoors with the tags: , , , , , ,

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