Michigan urban farming effort to provide education, food

Bryce Airgood
Port Huron, Mich., Times Herald

PORT HURON, Mich. — A team of Blue Water Area locals are sowing the seeds of a Port Huron farming initiative, with plans to buy city lots to provide food and education to the community.

The Port Huron Urban Farming Initiative is in the budding stages right now, currently seeking community support, volunteer labor and social media buzz, but it’s already growing around 100 plants in preparation for the thousands it will need.

“Look out, we’ve got a lot coming,” initiative member Heather Fagan told the Times Herald of Port Huron.

Fagan, who is in charge of garden management and planning for the initiative, said the goal is to provide easy public access to healthy homegrown foods and provide education based on nutrition, food preparation and benefits of healthy eating.

“Collectively we believe that knowledge is power, and by creating an avenue for everyone we can spread that knowledge and provide hope for a healthier life for people who feel that these things are out of their reach,” she said in a Facebook post.

The initiative is also about maintaining a space where it’s OK to ask for help. If someone is hungry, they can come to them and they will feed them, said Lisa Green, whose role involves getting people involved and interested in the initiative.

“We’re people that really love this community and want to see it thrive,” she said.

Julian Ruck, who owns First Church of Music LLC which is spearheading the initiative through a partnership, said it currently has about 100 tomato plants already growing in two indoor spaces.

They plan to grow these for cutting for more plants so they start the season strong with hundreds of plants ready to go in the ground.

“The snowball effect,” he said in a written message. “Started with some seeds ... now we’re here!”

The initiative has a fenced private lot on Miller Street it will work with through March, but its main lot will be at 1423 Lapeer Ave., Ruck said.

They will use the property for a community garden, selling half of it to fund the business and donating the other half, he said.

The initiative organizing team will vote on a quarterly payout and how much to put back into the business. Ruck said they are all technically on payroll, but currently have no income.

“I want us to make money at this,” he said, as monetary success will equate to philanthropic success.

Ruck said the focus is buying city lots while they’re cheap and flipping them into permanent gardens, with hopes to buy more in the future.

James Freed, Port Huron city manager, said the city supports these efforts and wishes them well.

The initiative plans to work with local businesses through private subscriptions for produce and partnerships to garden on their property.

The initiative will likely give away its produce at Sunday events at the lot but could also give to local nonprofits like the soup kitchen, Ruck said.

He said they will have a heightened responsibility to be sustainable and have good business practices. They want to teach people the skills and knowledge to garden so they can grow their own produce one day.

“Ultimately we want people to do it for themselves,” Ruck said.

Shannon Raynard, co-owner of Moe’s Corner Deli in downtown Port Huron and another initiative member, said you don’t need a lot of space or talent to garden, just good soil and motivation.

She has connections to other restaurants that may be interested in working with the initiative and they will establish more relationships once they have a yield and can offer produce, she said.

There’s still a lot to do, with soil testing and getting more materials, but they see the possibilities, she said.

“I’ve never had such confidence in a project as I do now,” Raynard said.

Julian Ruck talks about compost and bags of soil stored at a Port Huron, Mich., property for a community garden on Jan. 29. Ruck and several other locals have put together the Port Huron Urban Farming Initiative, which is aimed at providing easy public access to homegrown foods and education.
From left, Julian Ruck, Shannon Raynard, Lisa Green and Heather Fagan pose for a portrait on Jan. 29 at a Port Huron, Mich., property being used as a community garden. The group has put together the Port Huron Urban Farming Initiative, which is aimed at providing easy public access to healthy homegrown foods and education.