Starting with Pingree's Potato Patches

In addition to the food news, there's been a lot out recently on the benefits of gardening. There was a piece on NPR last week about how even prisons are using gardens to help inmates learn marketable skills and reduce stress.  And did you know that Avalon Housing planted its first food gardens for residents yesterday (with plants donated by Downtown Home and Garden)? 


Tangible benefits like these bound together with issues around food security and food access have me worked up about Ann Arbor taking away the last pittance of funding ($7000) for  Project Grow - the one tiny thing the City does to support food security in our community.  (And if you want to talk about the Greenbelt, please give me an example of a Greenbelt farm that provides food for our community).


There's a long history of community gardening for food security in our area (in addition to the fantastic work going on now). Starting in Detroit in the late 1800s, Mayor Hazen Pingree's most successful project in helping unemployed residents back then was the "Pingree Potato Patches":


"An economic depression between 1893 and 1897 caused poverty and unemployment, in turn causing a higher demand for community gardens in cities (Williamson). The Mayor of Detroit, a city hit hard by the depression, asked that owners of vacant lots allow the unemployed to grow vegetables for subsistence on their land. These lots were nicknamed “Pingree’s Potato Patches” after mayor Hazen S. Pingree (Lochbiler 1998). It was hoped that the cultivation would not only increase food supply, and therefore supplement income, but also provide a feeling of self respect and independence (Williamson). 


The gardens saved money because taxes did not need to be raised as much to help support the unemployed. The city initially invested $3,000 in the urban gardening program. In the first year, $12,000 worth of vegetables and potatoes were harvested, meaning that $9,000 dollars of relief expenditures were saved. Over several years, a total of 2000 families participated in the urban gardening program in both Detroit and Buffalo."



When Project Grow started out in the 1970s (during another economic depression) it was fully funded by the City for $40,000. 


Why is it that with food and gas prices rising uncontrollably, the City has seen fit to spend $47 MILLION on a new City Hall (which will put us taxpayers into debt for the next 30 years and which bypasses our ability to vote on it), but can't seem to come up with the $7000 that would pay a critical 20% of Project Grow's budget?  


The public record clearly shows that Project Grow applied for funding, yet recent and repeated messages from the Mayor and other City officials state that Project Grow did not apply for funding, also saying that it would be unfair to other non-profits to give funding to Project Grow at this point. What's going on over at the current City Hall if they don't know who requested funding and repeatedly deny what the the public record demonstrates as fact? 


All I know is that there is a City Council meeting tonight at 7pm where they are going to be talking about that $47 Million for a new City Hall and also voting on whether Council will allow people to keep up to 4 hens for eggs (the City Chicken ordinance) - one other thing that the City could do to support community food security.  If you have opinions on these things, please let your council representative and the mayor know. 


The one person who has spoken up for Project Grow and food security, publicly and tirelessly, happens to be running for the open City Council position in the 5th Ward. Vivienne Armentrout has my vote this August 5th. 


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