Saginaw urban farming collective looking for new path

Everyone needs a home. And it's no different for the folks running Grow Saginaw, the city's urban farming and gardening collective. The group has recently found itself without a place to farm and is hoping that community and city government support can help the organization land on its feet.

Starting in 2011, the volunteer organization nurtured a community garden on the southwest corner of Federal and South Washington streets in downtown Saginaw. Volunteers staffed and maintained the garden, planting and harvesting everything from broccoli to sunflowers.

The farm was more than just a plot of land yielding organic produce and vegetables. It became a community hub, a place where neighbors could gather, communicate, break a sweat and nourish their families--valuable assets to any community. The group found itself homeless early this year when Grow Saginaw Director Padraic Ingle was told the privately owned plot of land where they once culled produce was sold to a developer to, literally, put up a parking lot. Grow Saginaw now needs a new place to operate.

For Ingle, the plan is to build on the momentum established at Federal and Washington streets and flip that into a new farm somewhere else in Saginaw. A Grow Saginaw committee is working with city officials to obtain a plot of unused, city-owned land to continue its mission of community nourishment and healthy eating. Ingle says Grow Saginaw presently covets an 11-acre lot across from the YMCA on Fordney. The city has to grant permission in order for the group to move forward.

"There is currently no use for it and the city owns it," Ingle says. "To get it deeded would be fantastic. We would love to move forward. When I had heard the lot downtown had sold, I was actually relieved. It frees us up."

It frees up Grow Saginaw to pursue its goals with passion--to create a thriving community food forest, as Ingle calls it, a sustainable, renewable system of orchards and farms that feeds residents the purest, organic fruits and vegetables they can find. To grow anything more organic would have to be done in one's backyard.

"It is a forest where everything is edible. That's what I want to create. I want to show Saginaw what we are capable of," he says. "People now know who we are and we really want to roll that forward. Sell the fruits, make money and roll that into yet another lot, until we have a 10,000-square-foot food forest that we can make sustainable."

A plot of urban farming property does considerably more than produce fresh radishes and chard; in a welcomed complement, it becomes a living example of sustainability, growth and nutrition. There are no processing plants, fillers or pesticides. Monsanto isn't standing over in the corner like some dark, hulking villain. Rather, urban farming becomes a collective where neighbors work with other neighbors to maintain the land and grow healthy, affordable foodstuffs. They collaborate effectively to grow organic fruits and vegetables straight from the earth. No parent company reaping profits. No transportation costs passed on to the consumer. No nitrogen leaking from the facility into nearby waterways--just clean, natural fruit and produce, unblemished and uncompromised, from the soil to the dinner table.

There is also an urban farm and garden in Flint, the Flint River Farm.

Urban farming benefits the community in these and other ways. At least that's what Rich Premo, president and CEO of Hidden Harvest believes. Hidden Harvest is a nonprofit organization helping those in need by providing fresh fruits and vegetables to those who couldn't normally afford them.

"Physically, when you see an empty lot, and then tomato plants there, then you see people in the community taking care of it, it does make people feel good about what is happening on that property," Premo says. "I think urban gardening is a really neat concept and I'd like to see a lot more of it."

Ingle and numerous other Saginaw residents agree. But right now Grow Saginaw is at an unexpected impasse, uprooted from on-loan property it farmed and is now caught in a no-man's land unsure of where, if at all, it will end up next.

The community, however, has rallied behind Grow Saginaw and Ingle hopes that momentum can swell. Saginaw-based Morley Companies, Inc. held a fundraiser to benefit Grow Saginaw. White's Bar on State Street also has one planned for May 19.

Bartender Katie Koski says White's will host nearly a dozen live bands with the $5 per person door proceeds going to Grow Saginaw. Till money that would normally go to the band is being diverted to Grow Saginaw, and Koski says White's will encourage donations of cash and yard tools.

"What a great way to keep the money in the community," Koski says. "We love what this group is doing for Saginaw."

For Ingle, the best-case scenario is to obtain land it can ultimately own. By doing so, Grow Saginaw can maintain autonomy, the kind that gets lost when you're farming on someone else's land.

"We need to own the property," he says. "Without owning, we can only do so much. If the city owns it, I have to ask myself, 'Can I plant 100 fruit trees there? Can I take that chance?'"
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