Small garden on east side of Kalamazoo grows into community-wide project
KALAMAZOO – A community movement is growing on Kalamazoo's east side, and it's taking the shape of fruits, vegetables and trees.
A garden born three years ago this spring in an effort to give back to the land and live sustainably has grown into an expanded community-wide project that's gained the financial backing – and attention – of several local organizations.
Workers with the Kalamazoo County Land Bank approached Eastside neighborhood residents Tomme Maile and his partner, Dale Abbott, in 2010 after seeing the success of the Trybal Revival Community Garden that Maile and Abbott had started to the west of their house on East Michigan Avenue, said Catie Boring, Kalamazoo County Land Bank garden and beautification coordinator. The land bank was set to acquire two vacant properties in the 1500 block of East Michigan Avenue, on the opposite side of Maile and Abbott's home. The organization bought a third lot after the property went into foreclosure.
"We saw how attractive that was, and we were thinking if they could do something similar on the property next to them, that we'd be really in luck," Boring said.
Maile has a vision for the garden, which now sits on a mix of dirt and patchy grass. Also on the property sits a compost heap from leaves collected by the city of Kalamazoo, some cinder blocks and a few piles of dirt. Several posts outline the garden and will serve as the anchors for a future fence.
A diagram shows what Maile and the land bank hope becomes the future Trybal Revival Eastside Eco-Garden – different fruits and perennial plants that will benefit each other are planted together in pods. In the diagram, trees border the garden's north side and East Michigan Avenue borders it to the south. A shed that volunteers helped build last year will hold tools that can be borrowed for gardening projects.
Eventually, Boring and Maile said, a greenhouse will be built on the site for year-round gardening and hands-on gardening classes. The Kalamazoo Planning Commission in January approved a special-use permit to build that 2,300-square-foot space.
"There's a ton of collaboration," Boring said of the project. "It's also going to be really big. It's open. With the shed connection, I think it's going to be more of an educational space for hands-on community education."
Funding for the project includes a combined $7,500 from the Kendeda Fund and Local Initiative Support Corporation for the design of the greenhouse, demolition of a house at 1521 E. Michigan Ave. through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program and about $5,000 from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation to purchase tools for the shed.
"We're really able to utilize this space to affect a lot of gardeners in Kalamazoo to have it be the resource hub in the shed," Boring said.
A host of community gardens have sprung up in Kalamazoo in recent years. Many neighborhoods have some form of a community garden, including the Oakwood neighborhood, with others, like the Vine neighborhood, in the process of creating one, said Jeff Chamberlain, city director of community planning and development.
Two other gardens have been started through the land bank's Adopt-A-Lot program – The Campus Beet garden at 1205 Summit Ave., run by a Western Michigan University student group focusing on sustainability and a community garden at 1607 Egleston Ave., in the Edison neighborhood.
The Edison neighborhood community garden, started in 2010 and tended by residents there, was the first land bank garden to be established.
Galilee Baptist Church is planning a serenity garden on an adopted lot on the city's north side, Boring said.
Pat Taylor, executive director of the Eastside Neighborhood Association, noted that Maile and Abbott contribute to the neighborhood's summer food giveaway, in partnership with the Fresh Food Initiative, where donated fresh produce is given to residents. A supply of fresh produce is important in a neighborhood that hosts three convenience stores, but no grocery stores with fresh produce, Taylor said.
"I see it as another avenue of food security and a good way for exercise," Taylor said.