By Matthew Lewis
July 25, 2013
"I never thought about food justice. I just thought about how I could help the neighborhood," says Mark Covington, 41, Founder and President of the Georgia Street Community Collective
In December of 2007, Mark was laid off from his job as an environmental technician and moved back into his mother's home on Georgia Street in the neighborhood near City Airport on Detroit's Eastside. The neighborhood was plagued by illegal dumping on the vacant lots abounding around his mother's home. In the spring of 2008, Mark felt compelled to do something about it. He began by mowing a few of the lots surrounding her home, but soon found that this wasn't enough to keep the garbage away. He eventually had the idea that planting gardens might keep the dumpers away--and he was right.
As Mark became more and more interested in agriculture, the garden around his mother's home began its transformation into a full-fledged farm. In April 2008, Mark got an email about a meeting for the Garden Resource Program (now called Keep Growing Detroit
) and began taking classes on any and everything related to urban agriculture, from basic gardening to composting to rainwater collection.
"When I walked into that room and learned about all of the resources you could get for $20 a year, I felt like a weight was lifted off of my shoulders," says Covington.
Before being introduced to the Garden Resource Program, Mark was not aware that gardens were springing up in neighborhoods throughout the city. Now he communicates with others working on similar projects regularly.
In November of 2008, Mark founded the Georgia Street Community Collective with the intention of transforming his gardens into something more meaningful to his community than a tool to reduce blight. He knew that some seniors in the neighborhood had food insecurity issues and that the local kids needed something positive to do after school. Fast forward a few years and the area around the intersection of Georgia Street and Vinton Avenue is filled with scattered farm sites, including a few lots with raised beds, an orchard, and a farmyard filled with chickens, turkeys, and a goat. You might as well be in Georgia.
The garden is open to anyone who wants to come and pick food. "We have a good Internet presence," says Covington. "Even people from the suburbs come down and pick vegetables."
In recent years, Mark has expanded GSCC to service the neighborhood beyond providing food and reducing blight. The Collaborative purchased a building at the corner of Vinton and Georgia and renovated it. It's now a small community center equipped with a computer lab and a library that are used frequently by kids and seniors in the neighborhood. The Collaborative recently purchased another vacant home on the block so that the computer lab can be expanded to meet the demands of the neighborhood.
In addition to providing a place for residents to hang out, read, and use computers, the GSCC hosts a slew of events throughout the year including outdoor movie screenings, an annual Easter egg hunt and breakfast with the Easter Bunny, a summer street fair, a school supply giveaway for neighborhood kids, a harvest celebration in the fall, and a winter coat giveaway.
Mark has even bigger ideas for the GSCC, like a recreation center that will provide neighborhood kids with a place to do physical activities year-round, and repurposing other buildings in the neighborhood with aqua and hydroponic systems.
Necessity may be the mother of invention. Stopping the dumping that was blighting his neighborhood was the driving force behind Mark's first garden. But thanks to Mark's hard work and sustained innovation, that garden has grown into something much larger and more meaningful for his neighborhood.
All photos by Doug Coombe.