In the middle of downtown Detroit, just a a few blocks from the city’s lively Eastern Market, sits The Keep Growing Detroit Farm. It’s a hotspot of workshops for growers of all ages and the birthplace of the popular Motown Music garlic seed.
Keep Growing Detroit is a nonprofit devoted to the city’s food sovereignty, helping the community cultivate their own healthy produce in a sustainable way. Their Garden Resource Program, now over 15 years old, has woven a connection across thousands of local gardens, providing resources and tools to the area.
Nikolette Barnes (pictured above), a Detroit native, has been growing food since 2008. For many years, she worked alongside her dad, the farm manager of D-Town Farm. Using the skills her father taught her, she took a summer job supervising kids who were learning how to grow their own food. Nikolette bonded with them deeply and discovered her passion to teach young people about food sovereignty. Her mission is to expose her hometown to the Food Justice Movement. Through that, she hopes to see a shift in how consumers utilize their spending power, making better food choices overall.
“My title is Early Childhood Garden Development and Family Engagement Specialist. I am responsible for all facets–garden and farm to table education–in the early childhood centers. I do everything from training teachers and parents on basic gardening skills to installing garden beds at schools…Our programs provide gardeners with seeds, plants, education, and technical resources to grow and sell sustainable produce in the cities of Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park.
Urban Agriculture institutions like Keep Growing Detroit are vital for communities because of the need for access to tangible resources for growing food. It’s also important that Detroiters living in low-income communities are provided with accessible and affordable options for healthy food. KGD helps to foster an environment for thousands of growers to help fill that need.
The best part of my work is being surrounded by the next generation of food revolutionaries! I absolutely am blessed to be able to teach the babies how to grow, cook, and love the food that they grew for themselves. I also love completely transforming the mindset of someone who didn’t think they could grow food or enjoy fresh vegetables. It’s pretty rewarding.
The most challenging part of my work is dispelling the myths and breaking down the walls that result from misinformation about healthy eating and agriculture. It’s also very difficult to do this work while actively fighting against the system of oppression that creates tangible barriers to families having access to fresh locally grown food.” -Nikolette Barnes of Keep Growing Detroi Molly Hubbell (pictured below) is the Farm Operations Coordinator for Keep Growing Detroit. Her background is in plant and soil science. She’s spent many years farming, working in different positions and various situations. When she’s not at work, she’s on her own farm, in north Detroit.
“I started working in nurseries 16 years ago, and have been a gardener/farmer my whole life. My mom is an avid gardener (Master Gardener), and my father passed on his appreciation for the natural world…Farmers don’t have superpowers, we rely on intuition. That intuition comes with time and patience, and can be learned by anyone willing to put the time in.” -Molly Hubbell of Keep Growing Detroit
“My back has been sore for 16 years. Totally worth it.” -Molly Hubbell of Keep Growing Detroit
Lindsay Pielack is a Co-Director of Keep Growing Detroit. Her background is in Resource Ecology and Management, with a B.S. from University of Michigan. She played an influential role in the Garden Resource Program, helping it grow from 70 gardens to almost 1,500 gardens in just 8 years. Lindsay has lived in Detroit her entire life, and works hard to keep the community links strong.
“On a regular basis, I am supporting residents to start gardens and for those without a green thumb, I always encourage them to start by putting their hands into the soil and grow something! Once they do, the fire will be lit with the excitement of growing their own food and from there, I would say that every year is an opportunity to get better at it! One season at a time!
I would recommend that everyone, young or old, try their hand at growing something. You don’t have to commit to growing all your own food, just get connected to where your food comes from. There are lots of ways to do this, as simply as starting a container of herbs in your window or volunteering at a garden or farm near you.” -Lindsay Pielack of Keep Growing Detroit
Anita Singh (pictured above) is the Youth Programs Coordinator at Keep Growing Detroit.
Drawing from her background as a high school science teacher, she runs the farm education program. Anita has developed youth programs in many different cities, including Cartegena, Columbia.
Imani S. Foster (pictured above) is the Farmers’ Market Coordinator at Keep Growing Detroit. She is a native Detroiter who found her way into farming unexpectedly as a Crew Leader with the Student Conservation Association. Her role has expanded from vacant lot reclamation to Farmers’ Market Coordinator.
“The food a person sustainably grows is so much better than what’s bought in the supermarkets. Placing your hands in the soil is healing. A person can reestablish relations with family and friends by working together…
One of the best parts of my work is helping the small gardener earn capital. Of course, I love that our customer base continues to grow. There is something so exciting about folks coming to the table and sharing how glad they are that we are back for the season. I know that the work I’m doing as the Grown in Detroit Market coordinator is retooling the culture that this is their (the gardeners’) business to grow.” -Imani Foster of Keep Growing Detroit
Lola Kristi Gibson-Berg (pictured below) is the Community Education Coordinator at Keep Growing Detroit. She’s a Detroit native and a proud graduate of The Roeper School in Bloomfield Hills, MI. It was during her senior year at Kalamazoo College she realized her passion for growing food. She graduated from Kalamazoo with a BA in Human Development and Social Relations and then returned to Detroit.
“Farming makes me feel hopeful. It’s a privilege to be connected to a community of people in the city who know how to grow food, enjoy doing so, and are cultivating and growing their communities.” -Lola Kristi Gibson-Berg of Keep Growing Detroit
“As a single mother and female farmer, I struggle with having enough time to spend with my son while also being very active in the urban agriculture community. I hope to pass on the tangible knowledge of how to grow his own food on a small or large scale. Currently he is enrolled in a program called Food Warriors (housed by Detroit Black Community Food Security Network) where he is growing food as well as exploring food justice on a local and global level. We garden at my home and two community gardens. He is in charge of watering the plants at home! I also hope to pass on the importance of being an active and contributing member of the community that you live in. ” -Nikolette Barnes of Keep Growing Detroit
“I wish people knew how therapeutic farming can be. There is so much healing when you put your hands in the soil and grow something that will nourish your body. I also wish people knew how easy it is grow food at your home. People often feel like growing food is something only those with a green thumb can achieve. That is a huge myth, especially as it relates to growing on a small scale. There are so many resources for new gardeners to learn basic gardening skills..
I definitely do not have superpowers when it comes to growing food. I am still learning so much about how to problem solve as it’s related to my crops or soil quality. Farming makes me feel powerful…It’s not a walk in the park or romantic. Sometimes you will experience seasons where nothing grows abundantly or someone steals all of your melons. Stay the course.” -Nikolette Barnes of Keep Growing Detroit
If you’d like to find out more about the work these outstanding women are doing in Detroit, click here.