Restoring Flint: Gardening with Love

People often move out of the city and take up new residences in either the suburbs or the country. It seems safer; there is more room for children to play, lots of open space to plant gardens and, of course, improved property values. Flint, Michigan has great, wonderful, open places within its city, but the problem is that it has been neglected. Open space in our cities is surprisingly easy to find and it can be every bit as beautiful and useful as open space in our suburbs. Flint, for example, is teeming with vacant lots and abandoned homes. Additionally, there are parkways, school yards, commercial strips and even parking lots that provide good, useful spaces to work with. Any one of these places could be improved with plants, landscaping and a little TLC, to make them more beautiful, safer and an all-round better place to raise children. Interested in helping to improve and beautify Flint, Michigan or, perhaps, even your own city? Read on for some helpful hints, timely suggestions and ways to accomplish this goal.

So you’ve decided to take the steps to reclaim your city from the ghetto and make it a better place, but it all seems so big and overwhelming. Where do you start? Before you even get started, you should contact your local Cooperative Extension Office to see if they have any listing of organizations that are willing to help with such a task, or if they have any information that they can provide to assist you. Surprisingly, in some areas, funding is available and local government encourages such actions.

The first step in undergoing any project like this is to organize and gather people of similar interests. While it’s noble to want to change things alone, it is more fun and brings a community together, to make it a joint project. Call a meeting for all those who are interested and explain to them what kind of work and commitment is involved. Ensure that everyone understands that this is everyone pulling together, not just a couple doing the work; beautifying the city not only takes everyone’s assistance to start, but also takes a joint effort to maintain.

Decide your goals in this project; are you creating a place for children to play, like a basketball court? Are you planting a garden to raise healthy, organic vegetables for the community? Will your garden have raised and separated flower beds or is it all planted together, down in the soil? Will your garden consist of many individually-maintained plots or will the community work on it, as a whole?

Equally important is deciding whether or not this will be a permanent or a temporary garden, designed to improve appearances until something else is done with the property. This leads us into the next series of questions we must consider; does the group wish to purchase or lease the land, to ensure it’s protected from outside development? In many cases, ownership (or at least tenancy) is required in order to secure governmental funding for improvements. Is the group willing to assume long-term responsibility for planting, maintenance and possibly even liability for this site?

If, after you’ve discussed these things, your group is still ready and willing to commit to this project, our next step is the most obvious, if you’ve not done it already. Perhaps you have one particular eyesore in mind but, if you don’t, you will want to take the time to survey potential sites and choose the perfect place. Take a moment to ask yourself the important questions: Is this the right place for the project, easily accessibly by all volunteers? Does it have sunlight and access to water, as needed? How do the neighbors feel about the beautification project and are they interested in helping to maintain it? How is the site currently being used? Plan a garden around these factors and you’re sure to have a success!

Now that you’ve decided the basics for your project, what resources do you have available? Ideally, you will want to start your project with as little out of pocket expenses as possible. This is one of the most important ways that a community can pull together and help. Create a list of items and services that you will need to complete your goals. See if anyone has a friend of a friend, who can provide the use of a tiller of a few hours. Check to see who has rakes, shovels, hoes and wheelbarrows that can be used. Does anyone have access to a gardening hose or watering cans? Perhaps some people have some spare seed packets in a drawer, back home. Spare lumber could be used to separate the beds or perhaps someone has some fencing that can help keep pets out of the garden. Draw up a budget for these items but don’t forget to survey your community first; it’s amazing what people can often supply or donate to a worthy cause.

Additionally, check with other community groups in the area. The Cooperative Extension Office can often provide useful planting and growing tips and places like local museums, attractions, schools and gardens may be of assistance. It never hurts to ask. After all, beautifying the city benefits everyone!

Once you have your supplies, take the time and finish designing your garden, based on what you have available. You should have a vague mental outline but this is where we flesh out things, add the details, and incorporate what we’ve collected. Prepare to group plants based not only on whether they are high or low maintenance, but also by how much sun and water that they require. Grouping like plants in such a fashion not only makes them easier to care for, but it also helps to conserve water and benefits the environment by helping to conserve water. Also be sure to plan out a small area to use as a compost heap, so that you can recycle plant matter to make fertilizer for your garden.

One of the most important things to remember when working on a project like this is not to rush. Take your time and realize that, not only are you beautifying your city, but you’re also raising the esteem of people in the community, instilling hope and you’re teaching children and setting examples. Creating a garden isn’t about instant gratification; it’s all about taking steps and working towards the greater goal.

Breaking your project down into a year-long plan will definitely make things easier. In the winter, you can hold meetings and plan out your garden. In the spring, you clean the lot and prepare the soil, then plant your seeds. Summertime is for maintaining and tending for the garden so that, come fall, you can harvest what you’ve grown and then prepare the site for the upcoming winter months. Be sure to assign tasks accordingly.

Working together with our community, we can take back our cities from the ghetto an make them beautiful places to live in, once more. Flint, Michigan, like so many other cities throughout the United States, is in desperate need of assistance. With a little perseverance and some TLC, we can restore our cities to the happy, healthy places that they once were. Imagine the positive message that we send to our children when abandoned properties are turned into beautiful and useful gardens. Imagine how good one can feel when the harvest of these gardens can be donated to local soup kitchens or other charitable organizations in the area, showing residents how they can help provide for themselves. Not only do we show our children the gift of giving, but we also instill hope and the knowledge that they CAN make a difference, if they only want to.

You’ve taken the first few steps, just by doing the research and reading this article. Don’t be intimidated; be adventuresome. Start your project today and send out the message to the world, “We did it, so can YOU!”

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