It’s a sobering fact that most kids in America have grown up with no concept of how real food is grown, but thanks to our growing grassroots movement, things really are starting to change for the better.
Claire Erwin, an 18-year-old recent graduate from Cranbrook Kingswood High School in suburban Detroit and co-founder of the ‘Garden on the Go’ mobile organic garden project, found that out firsthand last year.
“Kids would climb up on the side of the trailer and dig their hands into the dirt,” she said, a practice that was encouraged as part of the project, which gave kids in the Detroit area a chance to learn about gardening that they otherwise wouldn’t have had access to.
“We would pass around pieces of lettuce and Swiss chard for the kids to munch on while we chatted about veggies and I remember one time a little girl, who was about 8, asked for a radish.”
Erwin told her that the radishes weren’t quite ready to eat.
“She pouted and told us, ‘ever since she was a baby all she wanted to do was eat a radish right from the ground.’ Even though we didn’t believe this for a second, we had to tell her that she could make it happen! We gave her some radish seeds in a Ziploc for her to take home…
“Her smile was priceless.”
Friends Start ‘Garden on the Go’ Project to Share the Love, Knowledge
The idea for the mobile garden began last year after planning by friends Claire Erwin and Serena Bian of Cranbrook High School in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, leading to its launch that June.
Bloomfield Hills is an upper-class city about 20 miles outside of Detroit, the latter a city that ‘Food, Inc.’ Director Robert Kenner once described as a “food desert” (as many others have) and a distinction that many community leaders and organizations have been working hard to change through grassroots gardening and other projects.
Erwin, now 18 and a recent graduate, first heard of the idea earlier that year after a University of Michigan graduate started a mobile garden project in urban Chicago.
“We thought it would be the perfect opportunity for us to combine our shared love of the city of Detroit and gardening,” Erwin said.
“We started by contacting different summer camps in the city. The Boll Family YMCA was one of the first to get back to us and after that we had a whole calendar full of scheduled visits all over the city. We got a great deal on an old trailer, filled it with dirt and seeds and hitched it to the back of my Honda. We were officially on the go.”
The project was entirely personally funded to the tune of about $500 total, but the impact it had can’t be measured in dollars.
She told the Detroit Free Press that she, Bian and friends were able to teach kids “the importance of gardening and that they can have a garden and it’s easy and how good fresh food is. Even though there’s not a lot of grocery stores in Detroit, it’s accessible to them,” she said.
Among the plants grown in the garden were tomatoes, peppers, carrots, beans, radishes, lettuce, chard and colorful Gerbera daisies.
In addition to Erwin’s project, which ended after the summer 2013 season, there have several other mobile garden projects popping up across the nation, including in Brooklyn where ‘King Corn’ documentary director Ian Cheney started a thriving garden project out of the back of a fleet of pickup trucks, and then created an award-winning documentary from it.
For her work with the Garden on the Go project along with her efforts in launching a beekeeping club in 2014, Erwin was named a 2014 Detroit Free Press Michigan Green Leader in the young leaders category. She also recently began a two-year term as a member of the state Department of Natural Resources Youth Board.
She said in an email interview that she plans to continue doing similar projects in college, although she’s not quite sure what form they make take on.
Erwin’s Advice for Green Grassroots Activists
With so many opportunities available to people with a little creativity, willpower, and funding to get started in this age of information, anyone can make a difference by making the world a little greener and more organic, as Erwin noted.
“I would definitely encourage others to do projects like this. The best advice I can give is to be nice and trust people. People want to help. Even people who have no interest in environmental issues and no idea what you’re trying to accomplish.
“For instance, the men who rented us the trailer were completely dumbfounded about why these two teenage girls wanted to buy their trailer and fill it with dirt. But they gave us a great deal, taught us how to drive a trailer, and helped us when we got a flat on the Lodge (Detroit freeway).
“We wouldn’t have been able to leave the driveway without the support of people who were once strangers. Put your trust in others and they will reciprocate.”
Related reading: America’s First Organic Hospital Greenhouse
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