DetroitAugust 15, 2012
Community garden takes root in northeast Detroit
By April Lehmbeck
C & G Staff Writer
DETROIT — Tucked in a neighborhood off Jefferson, away from the concrete, noise and buildings of the city, a movement has taken root and an oasis in a city long written off by some has come to life.
If you drove by the area of Freud and Newport, off Jefferson, just south of the Grosse Pointes, you might miss it. Once you find it, you may never want to leave.
“To me, it’s really like creating a portal to paradise,” said Tom Milano, who is behind Vedic Village Educational Gardens.
The gardens lie among one of Detroit’s many overgrown fields, but beyond a purplish entranceway with a green sign welcoming people to the gardens there is an intricately planned-out field of vegetables and flowers. It’s the first year of the gardens, but there are big plans to expand and grow among the acres of property on the site.
The gardens are the brainchild of Milano, who works the field with Nancy Weigandt and others who wanted to be a part of this project. Milano and Weigandt live down the street in the Detroit neighborhood near the gardens.
This isn’t Milano’s first experience in community gardening. He has been doing his farming in Pinckney for a few years, but he was inspired to join the movement in Detroit.
“I was so interested in the Detroit urban agricultural movement,” Milano said. “I’m totally thrilled to be involved with what’s going on in Detroit.”
The name of the gardens — Vedic Village — coincides with the philosophy of the man behind them.
“The Vedic way is that everything we do benefits all beings, not just human,” Milano said. “Everything we do here is done in a way that it really benefits everybody.”
They adopted the lots from the city and are working with Detroit officials on a plan for an even bigger project, but they’re in need of investors. That project will include a span of 13 acres, and Milano has drawn up plans for the site that include eco-housing, a peace park and large gardens that the community could work on together and enjoy together. It will be a village setting.
“This is actually a warm-up for the entire project,” he said of the current gardens.
“It’s going to be an $8 to $10 million process,” Milano said.
A member of the Hare Krishna movement, Milano has a vision of people working the land together.
“We really feel that as we establish these gardens, we’re putting out a vision on how we can bring about peace around the planet,” Milano said. “Detroit is poised to really make a statement.”
He’s a spiritual man who believes people should come together for something good, and they should definitely eat healthy, organic food.
“People should get the best food they can possibly get,” Milano said.
The vegetables are what’s called heirloom variety, which means they don’t use hybrids. He has received comments about how good it tastes.
“We believe anytime you manipulate nature, there is always a downside,” he said about the need to use heirlooms and not hybrids for the best outcome.
Getting it started wasn’t an easy task, as they had to clear the field on the garden site and he decided not to till the land. It took a great deal of compost and topsoil.
“We got 14 truckloads over two months,” Milano said.
They cut the grass as low as possible. They also layered the ground with cardboard that they got from a local business and other sites. The cardboard helps them not to disturb the soil underneath and also suppresses weeds, they said.
Another benefit of the cardboard is with worms.
“That’s the key thing,” Weigandt said. “It attracts worms. They’re the ones that really till our earth.”
Another detail of the project is that they have grown all of the vegetables from seed at home.
“We love it,” Milano said. “It really is like a metaphor for life in general, taking care of things, nurturing and planting seeds.
“All this is testimony of what two people in their 60s can do,” Milano said.
They spend a great deal of time after their day jobs and on weekends at the site and have encountered a great deal of wildlife in their field of dreams.
“There’s pheasants here, lots of birds, lots of wildlife,” Weigandt said.
“It’s like being in the countryside,” Milano added.
With this summer’s drought, they also spent a lot of time transporting water from their home in their vehicle down the street to the gardens in buckets and watering cans until they made a deal to purchase water from the church next door.
“We had to do it three times a day sometimes,” Milano said.
Milano’s work isn’t going unnoticed either. The Greening of Detroit recently made a stop at Vedic Village on a bus tour. Participants in the tour were treated to a meal made from the food grown in the gardens.
Milano has a list of a number of people in the area, including many in the Grosse Pointes, who have “bought shares,” so to speak, in the garden. Some of the customers live out in the area of his previous garden project, as well. Milano drives to drop off the weekly produce to those customers and delivers to the local customers who have paid for delivery; others pick their boxes up from designated sites. Some of those customers pick up their produce at Milano’s house, taking some time to sit with Milano and Weigandt when they stop by, enjoying some company.
“People come, they sit around, they talk,” Milano said. “We have a good time.
“We sit around the water garden,” he said.
Milano and Weigandt are not alone in their endeavor. People have signed on because they want to be a part of what is going on with the gardens.
“We really have wonderful people who are involved in the project who are God-conscious,” Milano said. “All of this is from God’s mercy, every step of the way.”
Ellen and Michael Scandirito are two of those people.
Michael grew up in a farming community, but Ellen is new to a lot of the gardening process.
“We grew up taking care of our own cows and pigs,” Michael Scandirito said. “It’s nice to kind of have a piece of that again.”
Ellen Scandirito grew up with a different experience.
“I’ve never dug my hands in any dirt anytime before until now,” she said. “I love it. It’s like our home. We just love being out here so much.”
As of a couple of weeks ago, they still had some openings for the rest of the season.
For more information, visit the Vedic Village Educational Gardens Facebook page at www.facebook.com/VedicVillageEducationalGardens.
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