Greening Detroit: Spirit of Hope Urban Farm Brings Bounty to the Motor City

A community garden in Detroit is one of hundreds bringing bounty to formerly blighted neighborhoods.

| September/October 2011

  • Swiss chard is extremely nutritious and brings bright color to the garden.
    Photo By Cybelle Codish
  • The farm’s two dozen chickens provide eggs, control insects and provide compost for the garden.
    Photo By Cybelle Codish
  • The Spirit of Hope gardeners built raised beds out of used tires—one of many low-tech ways the group salvages waste and saves money.
    Photo By Cybelle Codish
  • The Spirit of Hope gardeners built raised beds out of used tires—one of many low-tech ways the group salvages waste and saves money.
    Photo By Cybelle Codish
  • The Spirit of Hope gardeners built raised beds out of used tires—one of many low-tech ways the group salvages waste and saves money.
    Photo By Cybelle Codish
  • Spirit of Hope Urban Farm is on a formerly empty parcel of land next door to Spirit of Hope church. The farm works with the church’s Sunshine Community Preschool to teach kids about growing food and eating well. Before starting her seeds in early spring, Devlin asks the children who work in the garden what plants they want to grow.
    Photo By Cybelle Codish
  • Garlic chives are one of many tasty herbs Spirit of Hope grows.
    Photo By Cybelle Codish
  • Spirit of Hope donated more than 3,000 pounds of fresh produce to its local food pantry last year.
    Photo By Cybelle Codish
  • Gardening helps teach the children to try new kinds of vegetables and fruits.
    Photo By Cybelle Codish
  • Spirit of Hope Urban Farm founder Kathleen Devlin provides fresh food and a garden education to her community.
    Photo By Cybelle Codish
  • The garden’s turkey offers entertainment for the kids and garden volunteers.
    Photo By Cybelle Codish
  • The preschoolers don’t work in the garden on one specific day a week. “We try to work the garden and healthy food education into their everyday lives and school curriculum,” Devlin says.
    Photo By Cybelle Codish

Less than two miles from the heart of downtown Detroit, 12,000 square feet of land adjacent to a historic church stood empty. In almost any other urban center, this land would have grown dense housing, a bustling retail strip or a manicured corner park. But Detroit is not any urban center. Here, in a city perhaps hit harder than any other in the United States by poor urban planning, racial segregation, population loss and devalued property, developers aren’t interested in building shopping centers—a state of affairs that works out just fine for the organizers of Spirit of Hope Urban Farm, a little corner of utopia in the middle of Motor City.

Spirit of Hope is one of many groups in the city transforming languishing, abandoned city plots into bountiful community gardens. Here neighbors and volunteers grow bulbous garlic, robust broccoli, juicy peaches and plums, rich collard greens and shapely heirloom tomatoes. The farm is also home to a turkey, two dozen chickens, a handful of ducks and three beehives.

Fearless Leaders 

The farm can best be classified as a loose farming collective, but if it has a leader, it’s Kathleen Devlin. She started her first community garden in 1987 and has since gardened in several Detroit neighborhoods. She was inspired to build the Spirit of Hope garden through volunteer work she did far from her hometown, in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. “After Katrina hit, I went down to help and wound up being a first responder,” Devlin says. “For a few years, a couple of my friends and I would go down for extended stays and help out. We formed a nonprofit with some other relief workers called United Peace Relief. After a couple years, my friends and I started to notice that New Orleans and Detroit look a lot alike. We made a commitment to come back to Detroit and help people at home,” she says.



Although she professes no strong adherence to doctrine or dogma, Devlin knew the Spirit of Hope church’s empty lot next door to her home would be an ideal location for the project because “without a primary house, it’s still illegal to garden on an empty lot,” she says. “Here, I knew the city couldn’t move me.”

She had become friends with the pastor over the years, and he gave the project his blessing. In autumn of 2007, she and a group of other gardeners planted their first crops, and “we’ve been at it ever since,” Devlin says.



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