Over the last couple of years, VEJ has been building a large neighborhood garden at the corner of Greydale and Puritan streets on the border of Detroit's Brightmoor and Old Redford neighborhoods. L'Oreal Hawkes-Williams, a student at the University of Michigan, was an intern who worked two summers in the garden.
Fresh from her graduation from U-M in April 2018, L'Oreal is now VEJ's garden leader. In her new role, she is responsible for the care and cultivation of the garden. More important, she is responsible for how the garden makes a real difference to the ecology and people of Brightmoor and Old Redford.
In addition to keeping track of what VEJ harvests from the garden in 2018, L'Oreal is also working to reach some other important "impact goals," such as:
The following is an interview in which L'Oreal shares more about herself and her plans for VEJ's garden program in 2018.
How does it feel to be leading the garden program after being an intern the last couple of years?
LH-W: It feels pretty good to have the opportunity to manage the garden program after interning the last few years. I just recently graduated from the University of Michigan and it is nice to be able to jump right into action.
What is your passion and purpose in life and how does leading the garden program help you live those things out?
LH-W: I'm passionate about a lot of things. To break it down into a few broad categories, I say I'm most passionate about environmental & social justice, life-long education and self sufficiency. Leading the garden program at VEJ is the perfect opportunity to practice all of those things in some aspect. I hope I can co-create a beautiful space with the Old Redford/Brightmoor community that will become an asset to the neighborhood.
Why is it important for Voices for Earth Justice to have a garden? To make gardening a big part of its mission?
LH_W: Our current food system is based on three crops: corn, soy and wheat. Massive mono-cultures of these crops disrupt ecosystem processes and harm our environment. The market is over-saturated with unhealthy processed foods that contribute to our nation's health crises. It is important for people to have as much agency over their lives as possible and learn how to exercise their right to fresh, healthy foods that they can can produce themselves. VEJ's mission to bring environmental awareness to the masses involves seeking out alternatives for people that will allow them to participate in repairing our world.
Describe your plan and your vision for the garden in 2018. What about your plan/vision is different/new from what we've done before?
LH-W: My plan is to establish a demonstration garden that will show different methods for growing, several intentional gathering spaces, as well as a new composting system. Utilizing permaculture principles, we're aiming to provide a space where people can get hands-on gardening education that promotes healthy living, self-reliance, and overall well-being. There will be signage to assist in the learning experience.
Tell us a little more about what kind of "demonstrations" the garden will have.
LH-W: We will highlight three different ways to grow food: Raised beds, Chinese beds, and Hugel beds. Signage will be in place to explain the methods. There will also be a pollinator box, mushroom patch, and tea/herb bed.
What are those three kinds of beds you mentioned?
LH-W: Raised garden beds are great for growing small plots of veggies and flowers. They keep pathway weeds from your garden soil, prevent soil compaction, provide good drainage, and serve as a barrier to pests such as slugs and snails.
With Chinese beds, mounded soil drains more quickly and warms up earlier in spring than the surrounding soil, making earlier planting possible. Once the beds are created from soil amended with plenty of compost, no further tilling is necessary.
Used for centuries in Eastern Europe and Germany, hugelkultur (in German hugelkultur translates roughly as “mound culture”) is a gardening and farming technique whereby woody debris (fallen branches and/or logs) are used as a resource.
What is a pollinator box?
LH-W: A pollinator box is a homemade bee house made from repurposed materials.
What kind of help and resources do we need from friends of Voices for Earth Justice to realize your vision?
LH-W: With this massive restructuring, we are in need of volunteers and tools. The plans are in place, we just need community support bring the dreams into reality. As well as volunteers, we need people to come and use the space! It is for the community. Help us to complete this transition so that we can be a a treasured resource for the Brightmoor community.
Now that you know how VEJ's garden program will make a bigger difference in 2018, will you help? Click on a button below to donate or volunteer.