Archive for March, 2011

Owning Nature

With recent announcements made this year about deregulating genetically modified Alf-Alfa and Sugar Beets, we are slowly but surely not only wreaking unknown havoc on our natural habitats, destroying local economies, and damaging our bodies greater than any of us currently realize. Labeling, always a concern in the age of genetic modification has been fought hard against, and it can be certain that nearly all of the foods that folks consume in food insecure environments contain ingredients that have been genetically modified (most commonly occurring in corn and soy products). As more and more small seeds companies get bought up by mega agribusinesses, such as Monsanto or Dupont, it is of outright necessity that those growing food locally know where there seeds are coming from.

Please check out this map (and this article) which visualize the global seed industry between 1996-2008.


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At a recent meeting of Detroiters planning a People Festival to celebrate “Bringing the neighbor back into the ‘hood” Wayne Curtis noted that we are creating “a whole new culture.”

His remark suggests to me that we need more discussion and understanding of the cultural revolution Detroiters are now making in response to the devastation of deindustrialization. It is transforming how we view our selves, our surroundings and our institutions. We are making a life and not just a living by feeding ourselves, educating our children and taking more responsibility for each other and our communities.

This cultural revolution is very different from the cultural revolution involving the education of mostly illiterate Russian peasants advocated by Lenin after the Bolshevik seizure of state power in 1917. It is also very different from Mao’s 1966 cultural revolution which sent millions of educated Chinese youth to work in the countryside and learn from the peasantry. It goes beyond the cultural revolution of the 60s which began to redefine race, gender, generational relations.

Today’s cultural revolution, which is emerging from the ground up especially in Detroit, is as awesome as the transition from Hunting and Gathering to Agriculture 11,000 years ago and from Agriculture to Industry a few hundred years ago.

Forty years ago Wayne Curtis was a Black Panther. Now a softspoken man with gray dreadlocks, he and his wife Myrtle Thompson are co-founders of Feedom Freedom Growers, a community garden which is revitalizing their east side neighborhood, supplying fresh produce to local restaurants, and energizing and educating schoolkids by giving them opportunities to be of use now by doing work that is real, like growing food.

They are also growing hearts and minds.

For example, this year on Martin Luther King Day, Feedom Freedom Growers hosted a neighborhood gathering at Hope Community Church. A four year old told a joke, a seven year old rapped, and Myrtle’s son, Tyrone, a twenty-something veteran, directed participants to MLK’s April 4, 1967 speech on the Vietnam War, “If you never read any other speech, please read this one.”

He challenged everyone, especially young people, to accept responsibility for right thoughtfulness, conscience, and right actions. To have faith and to seek guidance when we have questions. To establish just values in terms of human lives and the consequences of taking a life.

He was profound in his wisdom and understanding of how war injures all of us.

(For more on this gathering, see Gloria Lowe’s report in my January 30- February 5 column).

This wide-ranging transformation is taking place in response to the devastation and disaster of our deindustrialized city. Instead of viewing our selves as victims, grassroots Detroiters are discovering and embracing the power within us to create ourselves and our world anew.

More than a thousand community gardens have been planted. Neighbors are coming together to look out for each other and to turn war zones into peace zones. Inner city churches which became “parking lot churches” during the 70s as upwardly mobile parishioners fled to the suburbs, are transforming themselves into “place-based churches,” seizing the opportunity to become meeting places for young people struggling to bring the neighbor back into the’ hood.

Detroiters are carrying on the African American tradition of “making a way out of no way.”

Charles Johnson, the philosopher and artist who won the National Book award in 1990 for his novel The Middle Passage, has described this re-creation of ourselves as “collective transformation through disaster.” It is a black narrative in sharp contrast with the narrative of blacks as victims that made Richard Wright’s Native Son a best seller in the 1940s.

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The following two articles were submitted by the amazing farm workers/Youth Growing Detroit participants/flat out beautiful people Deja and Denae Smith. Both were printed in Feedom Freedom Growers’ newsletter issue 2.

My Experience in the Garden (by Denae Smith)

My Experience in the Garden was a good learning experience. I learned how to plant seed, grow, weed and even harvest food. My Auntie Myrtle helped me a lot with learning the plants. My favorite food in the garden is squash and my favorite fruit in the garden is watermelon. Even though I don’t like everything in the garden, I still try the food. The good thing about the garden is that we don’t use pesticides; they are really harmful to your body. We even have a compost bin so that we can recycle fresh food items. We also went to the Eastern Market to sell fresh produce and customers will ask us if we use pesticides and we say no. We also got to visit at other community gardens and learned how to harvest our produce. That’s my experience in the garden.

Healthy Growing Gardens (by Deja Smith)

Hi, my name is Deja and this is my first year gardening. I have been inspired and encouraged by the garden and my Auntie Myrtle. I have come a long way and have some things I can use later in life: 1) Believe in your experience; 2) Don’t think you are helping just yourself, you are helping the community; 3) Have more than one goal. Healthy eating means a healthy body, and we had a successful garden. What I mean is growing lots of fruits and vegetables that are good for you. To eat healthy to me means keeping your meals balanced. Keep HEALTHY FOOD UP AND JUNK FOODS DOWN – this is very important. Growing and keeping the garden together can sometimes be boring. But there were fun times too. The summits were fun because we would meet new people and play games. We had fun and everything worked out ok. Remember if you’re growing a garden you are growing your community.

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From Myrtle Thompson-Curtis and Wayne Curtis, below is the opening article to Feedom Freedom’s second issue of their newsletter. An additional article from this issue will be added weekly.

Feedom Freedom Growers

Beloved Community is the name Dr. Martin Luther King gave many years ago to a culturally rich, boundary crossing and diverse community. The beloved community that Dr. King spoke of back then still exists today and in fact, we are that community – raising our heads after being down for far too long as we begin to rebuild, one person, one house, one neighborhood at a time.

Our society today is onr of extremes: a society of instant gratification where the underdeveloped and unemployed are left feeling abandoned – cut off from the decision making process that rightfully belongs to them as citizens. But lawmakers and corporations don’t worry about such things. Their main priority is profit, even at the expense of human dignity and the world’s resources.

In the bible the Prophet Isaiah addressed the people at the end of the exile a generation of people abandoned and desolate. “They look upon a city destroyed by the empire, a city that needs to be rebuilt from the ground up.”

Does it sound like any city that you know – where the rich get richer, and the gets poorer?

We acknowledge the realization that we must create change for ourselves. Once we understand what our purpose is, and where we are going, we can learn from and draw upon the many great voices of the past and present.

Voices such as Grace Lee Boggs, an East side activist for the past 40 years and is still vigorously writing books and inciting transformation toward a more humanistic society. Dr. Huey P. Newton organized, educated and fed people, giving us the example of what it means to grow from a small grassroots group toa strong voice for the people; even influencing policy in the United States. Malcolm X was a boy from the streets and yet became one of the greatest influences to our society. His words still ring true today urging us to search for the truth without ceasing and to gain an understanding of who we are. And there are many more.

Manistique Garden

We at Manistique Garden on the south side of Jefferson enjoyed another great year of growing in 2010! The “Youth Growing Detroit” activities were informative and fun for the kids that participated and even offered them a chance to earn a small stipend for their efforts. The stipend money was an incentive for them to participate for the Garden tours and hands on learning workshops.

The highlight for the most of the kids was the opportunity to learn marketable skills by selling garden grown at a special section of the Eastern Market. The kids ranged from ages 2 to 18 years old and activities were designed and implemented for each age group. Food was quite often on the itinerary after the workday was done and they were all pretty ready to eat by then. And I can confirm that the strawberries were so very sweet and tasty as were the juicy Goldie tomatoes.

We are creating the circumstances in which we can help ourselves as a community.

We grow food as a revolutionary act of love for self and others, employing the resources that were put in place to sustain life: sun, earth, our own labor. We are working toward being that community built on love, joy and hope; that beloved community that Dr. King spoke of building. We are like the people the prophet Isaiah spoke of when he talked of a garden and marriage both growing and joining together.

As support from city officials decreases and food lines grow longer, we now rely on growing our own food and making our own work to enrich and empower ourselves, our families and our neighborhoods. We count on each and work together to build a strong and bonded community.

When we have no streetlights, we turn porch lights on and listen for potential problems, operating as each other’s eyes and ears. We are the beloved community. When faced with no street snow plowing, we shovel one extra walkway or we pitch in to have someone with heavy equipment do the whole block. Why? Because we are the beloved community. When businesses are not providing quality service we put pressure on them as a community and hold them accountable. We are the beloved community.

At Manistique Community Garden, the Feedom Freedom Grower’s find hope and purpose to practice spiritual principles, which include respecting the laws of nature, co-existing harmoniously with other and developing strategies to deal with situations as they arise. We are learning problem solving together and strive to incorporate humanistic practices in our dealings with each other.

We are fortunate to have a broad base of friends and support, from the neighborhood block club president to the community security persons that patrol the area and keeping a watchful eye on our streets.

Our goal is to take responsibility and adhere to the principle of the great commandment: love your neighbor as you love yourself.


Feedom Freedom Growers orchestrated a roundtable discussion last October. The event was a collaborative of students, neighbors, local community activists.

They gathered to counteract the negative vibes that surround Detroit with positive and creative new solutions to old problems. We plan to do the roundtable again.** If you feel you have a positive contribution to add to the conversation or would like to just listen in, please join us at the Hope Community Church January 15th 2011 at 11:00 AM. That date is Martin Luther King Day, and we will commemorate him by discussing his contributions and how they are still relevant today.

**The January roundtable discussion was incredibly successful. A reflection piece written by Gloria Lowe has been posted to this blog. More information will be available soon about Feedom Freedom’s next roundtable discussion in April.

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