(A volunteer works in the garden)
By Patrick Keating
CHRONICLE STAFF WRITER
The non-profit Buckets of Rain works to create sustainable gardens in support of local soup kitchens.
Founder Chris Skellenger said that for past few years Buckets of Rain has worked in Africa and Central America, but friends and associates urged him to take a look at what was going on in the Detroit area.
“I’d read about it, but I’d had no idea,” he said, adding that Buckets of Rain made appointments to talk to the larger rescue missions in the area.
The organization now works with Detroit Rescue Mission and Cass Community Social Services. Their crops go to those organizations.
“Between them they have several soup kitchens that can certainly use some fresh food,” Skellenger said.
This past spring, Buckets of Rain started construction of a garden in the parking lot across the street from S.A.Y. Detroit Family Health Clinic.
“The parking lot is owned by the Rescue Mission,” Skellenger said. “They said ‘go for it.’ So we cleaned it up and it’s the size of a football field. And we’re about 25 percent built.”
He said he means that literally, because they have to build the raised beds, fill them with soil and run the irrigation.
“Our first stop, when we deliver food, is right across the street,” Skellenger said. “And then we go to several other kitchens as well.”
He said that so far, they have about 4,000 linear feet of vegetables growing, and that they’re adding about four or five rows every week.
Skellenger said the garden experienced a bumper crop, with perhaps 100 heads of lettuce and 50 lbs. of green beans on July 10. So they put out signs and spread the word through the neighborhood.
“We gave away probably 60 to 75 bags of food to the neighbors,” he said. “But, obviously, because we’re only 25 percent built right now, we can’t do that all the time. Our first customer has to be the soup kitchens.”
He also said they’ll teach anyone who’ll listen how to build a raised bed on a used pallet, and farm above ground.
Skellenger said humans have lost the ability to grow their own food.
“It’s not passed on from generation to generation anymore,” he said. “And it’s hard. People don’t want to work that hard. So, unless we put it in raised beds, it’s probably not going to work. It’s going to get ignored.”
Skellenger admitted that putting the gardens in raised beds means more work for Buckets of Rain, but said he wants to make it as little work for beginning gardeners as possible.
Buckets of Rain builds 3 x 6 wood beds out of recycled pallets provided by the auto industry. Skellenger said they cost $1.00 apiece to build them.
“We’ve sent a few of those out into the neighborhoods,” he said, adding that they also give away excess seedlings.
“And in the future, when we’re not so consumed with building, and more on growing, we’ll have more excess of everything,” he said. “I can’t wait till next year.”
Skellenger called the garden under construction the “mother ship”, saying it’ll probably be one of the biggest in metro Detroit.
He also believes it’s a good idea to spread the gardens around.
“Instead of having one 30,000 square foot one here, like we’ll have, it may be better to have 10 3,000 square footers,” he said. “So that every time you turn your heard, every time you go around the block you go, “oh, wow! There’s another one of those urban gardens.'”
The 30,000 square foot “mother ship” garden is located at 211 Glendale in Highland Park, between Third and Hamilton.
“We may get it completely built this year, so we can immediately start farming that next spring,” Skellenger said, adding that they get 40 used parts containers from the auto industry, per week.
Because the garden consists of raised beds only, that’s the limit that they can expand.
Buckets of Rain also supports a C.1,500 square foot garden about two and a half blocks down Glendale, between Second and Woodward. Skellenger described it more as a “help yourself garden.”
“And then we’re starting to put one in at the Highland Park Renaissance Academy,” he said. “We’ve got about five rows or so there.”
He’s not sure of the exact address of the other garden on Glendale, guessing it’s either 50 or 55.
“There’s no real addresses on this street anymore,” he said. “Most of the houses are gone.”
Skellenger said the Renaissance Academy Garden has the potential to go up to 20,000 square feet, but because it’s not very visible or in the middle of a neighborhood, Buckets of Rain is holding off on that one until they see whether a better location pops up.
He said they’d like as much foot traffic by these gardens as possible.
Buckets of Rain’s goals over the next year or two include providing the missions with an increasing amount of food each year.
“I think maybe this year we’re going to get them 100,000 servings,” he said.
Over the next four to five years, the goal is to do one million servings per season.
“To do that, we need 10 of these football field-sized urban gardens,” Skellenger said, adding that it’s doable.
According to Skellenger, the two most important products of urban gardening might be that people in the community have started to come together at the 211 Glendale garden; and that Buckets of Rain cleared about 50 yards of small invasive trees and vines and other blight in order to build the garden.
For more information or to volunteer, call Skellenger at 231-883-7213 or visit www.bucketsofrain.org