Thanks to the Earth, to God, and a record donations and volunteers, Hope House & Garden had its best growing season ever in spite of global pandemic and local recession.
The garden yielded 26 times as much produce in 2020 as it did in 2019. VEJ donated all of that food to Brightmoor Connection food pantry and to Hope Park neighbors.
"Dark times are when we really get to see goodness shine through at its brightest," said VEJ executive director BT Irwin. "The way everyone and everything came together around the garden this year is beautiful and inspires so much hope."
In addition to food from the garden, VEJ donors also gave $_,___ to support Brightmoor Connection's response to the COVID crisis in the Hope Park neighborhood of Detroit.
"Back in the spring, it was scary to see how the need was glaring at us," said Irwin. "But this community and this garden just smiled right back."
Thanks to major contributions from the Barton Malow Foundation, the Father Clement H. Kern Foundation, and the Desai Sethi Foundation, as well as dozens of gifts from personal donors, VEJ more than tripled the growing space in the garden. Bees in the D added two hives (that helped with garden pollination) and volunteers from Barton Malow put up a deer and rodent barrier that cut down on the amount of food lost to wildlife. Volunteers from Summer in the City came to work at the garden alongside neighbors from Hope Park. A grant from the Adrian Dominican Sisters Ministry Trust built new rain gardens and started the installation of a new rain catchment and irrigation system.
"To be honest, back around March, I was worried about what would happen this season," said Irwin. "But right around April, these organizations and people started giving and the giving just kept growing as the season went on. While the giving was growing, so was the garden. And, as the garden was growing, we were able to start giving it all away to people who were very happy to have it."
Irwin said NEW LEAF Detroit also deserves a lot of credit for the garden's success this year. NEW LEAF Detroit is a new nonprofit started by Voices for Earth Justice alumna L'Oreal Hawkes-Williams. NEW LEAF's mission is to help Detroiters become self-sufficient when it comes to their food and health. VEJ contracted NEW LEAF to plan and manage Hope House Garden in 2020.
"We are so honored and pleased to be part of L'Oreal's life and NEW LEAF's story," said Irwin. "We couldn't do what we do here at Hope House & Garden with them."
Whereas VEJ's garden grew a lot of experimental crops in the past, NEW LEAF changed the crop plan for 2020. Hawkes-Williams asked Brightmoor Connection food pantry about its clients' preferences and tastes for fresh produce. Then, NEW LEAF planted only those crops in VEJ's garden. Those included eggplant, fresh herbs, peas, salad greens, and several varieties of peppers, squash, and tomatoes.
Planning is already under way for the 2021 growing season.
"Even though we built out the garden to fill the entire lot, we want to add more growing space in 2021," said Irwin. "This means reconfiguring the garden in a way that makes better use of the space."
Irwin said he hopes to make the entire garden a raised bed garden that will make it accessible to people with disabilities and to seniors. He also wants to add informational signage and self-service bagging and weighing stations so that neighbors can come glean from the garden on their own.
As with 2020, all produce will go to Brightmoor Connection food pantry and the Hope Park neighborhood.
"This pandemic is far from over. The economic impact on VEJ's neighborhood is far from over," said Irwin. "Our neighbors are in for a long and tough stretch. So, we're going to keep mobilizing and organizing the VEJ community to do what we can with them."