Q & A WITH THE GARDEN DETROIT DIRECTOR, TOM MILANO
WHAT INSPIRES YOUR VISION FOR THE GARDEN DETROIT?
Years ago I felt drawn to Detroit because I feel deeply that something bigger than all of us is brewing under the surface of this city – and I don't mean its microbreweries. On the surface we are seeing many projects unfolding here, particularly in the downtown area. The landscape is steadily changing for the better and there is great enthusiasm for this change. But as for the future of our neighborhoods, a vast realm of unseen possibilities await.
Under the surface, on the level of our thinking, feeling and willing, city planners along with local residents are working together to forge a vision of what we all want for our city. I believe we are being called upon to inspire one another and the world, not solely through our material achievements, but when enough of us become motivated to model our city around the truth that we're all of one spiritual family.
Throughout history, cultures from every corner of the planet – including indigenous peoples and ancient civilizations - believe there was a time when a heaven-like state of existence prevailed on Earth. From the spiritual perspective, this outer state of existence, often called "The Garden," was manifest from an inner awareness that we have an eternal, loving relationship with our Source and all living beings. Therefore, bearing this in mind, I believe we can revitalize our communities in a way that can bring out the best – in other words, “The Garden” – in one another.
We have a glorious opportunity to remake Detroit, based on the belief that we're all family: absolute equals who share the same purpose and who are here to help one another. My deepest wish is that we realize that the remaking of our city is inseparable from the remaking of our own hearts. Detroit has already blessed the world with major innovations such as the automobile and the music of Motown. The time is ripe for us to offer the world an innovation that it now needs most - a magnificent outpouring of love.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF A LOCAL FOOD SYSTEM?
For the United States and much of the industrialized world, our food system is largely in the hands of commercial food giants. Very few of us grow our own food anymore, family farms are quickly disappearing and many of us don't have access to farmer markets. Therefore, for most of us, our diet includes commercial processed foods, which are harmful to our health and the cause of much of the disease we see today.
All across Detroit people have been working for years to remake the food system. Being a fairly new farmer and advocate for developing local food systems, there is much for me to learn. But one thing I do know is that developing a local community food system is ultimately about cultivating relationships and harvesting the good in one another. For The Garden Detroit, we believe local systems are fundamental and essential to the widespread well-being of our communities.
From a social perspective, there's nothing like food that can tie individuals and community together. Increased participation by local residents working on multiple food system issues such as improving access by all to an adequate, affordable, nutritious diet is a fundamental way for people to help care for one another as neighbors, and it can catalyze community revitalization. Food system revitalization, in our opinion, will naturally beget community revitalization.
Local food systems can be a model of dynamic and participatory sustainability in action through social inclusion, environmental protection and organic food production. A study from the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, states that "empirical studies of urban agriculture documents benefits such as improved air quality, preservation of cultivatable land, cooler buildings, improved urban biodiversity, waste and nutrient recycling, and storm water management,"
Our focus will be on increasing dietary quality, food security, self-reliance and community pride. In the last analysis, replacing blighted lots with beauty and providing the opportunity for local residents to engage cohesively in meaningful work, can potentially benefit everyone. Optimized health, reduced risk of diet-related chronic diseases, and increased enjoyment of food among local residents, are community-based objectives of The Garden Detroit.
WHY ARE YOU WORKING TOWARDS CREATING POCKET NEIGHBORHOODS?
At present, the idea of creating pocket neighborhoods is still percolating in our minds. Since the purpose of The Garden Detroit is to build the capacity and expertise to re-purpose vacant land for the betterment of the community, and since we are already establishing a local food system and have launched a cut-flower business, it seems the next step would be to integrate small homes into our projects.
Urban planners across the country are realizing that forward-thinking community-building is not only good for the community and the environment, it's also good for business. The Detroit Green Building Council's literature is replete with references about how more and more people are looking to move into communities that offer green housing, green office space and urban agriculture.
Clusters of small cottage-like homes that can be seamlessly woven into our neighborhoods are not only attractive, they can be affordable to many, they give people the opportunity to downsize and they are energy efficient. Some of them can also provide housing for those who would like to work within The Garden Detroit's emerging food system and the spin-off businesses it creates.