With fresh vegetables and the ability to bring communities together, urban gardens are a good use of space in city environments.
Located just off the John Lodge Freeway in Highland Park, Buckets of Rain is a food security organization founded in northern Michigan’s Leelanau County over a decade ago. It’s been serving the Detroit area for the last eight years.
“We started out working in Africa and Central America trying to grow food year-round in places where drought forced people to change their diets,” says Chris Skellenger, the founder and executive director of Buckets of Rain. In 2011, “we ran into a retired Methodist minister who came up and said, in no uncertain terms, ‘you need to look at Detroit.’”
Situated in Highland Park, a city entirely surrounded by Detroit, the area around the garden was once bustling with hospitals, schools and restaurants.
The striking thing about the garden is it’s on a concrete lot.
“It’s a parking lot the size of a football field and we’ve populated it with raised [garden] beds that have been donated by General Motors,” Skellenger says.
As the organization has grown, it’s become a key provider of fresh food for a number of homeless shelters and clinics around Highland Park and Detroit. In 2017, they partnered with local personality Mitch Albom’s S.A.Y Clinic, a healthcare facility that caters to homeless women and children, to create a program called “Clinic to Farm to Patient.”
Currently, Buckets of Rain produces thousands of food servings per year. But with a relatively small staff on hand, they have to look outward for help in facilitating the work.
The answer: Volunteers. Throughout the growing season, Buckets of Rain rely on hundreds of corporate volunteers to help harvest the vegetables.
While the organization is having a positive impact around the city, the goal is to be more directly involved in area of Highland Park that surround the garden. They’ve created a walk-up garden for community members. Free vegetables from the main garden are available once a week. And they’ve made a concerted effort to connect with local organizations.
But for Buckets of Rain, thinking about what it means to be part of a community informs what they do every day.
“I walk around here four or five days a week. There are a lot of people, but things are spread out,” says Program Manager Tony Johnson. “Sometimes it seems that it’s hard for people to engage together. Creating more spaces where people can do that seems like a good idea to me.”