August 13th, 2011 - By Lari Robling
From blight to okra in just a few months! Marathon Restaurants created an urban farm on a vacant lot in Brewerytown and discovered a community relationship blossomed as well.
It's a beautiful summer day in Brewerytown, but as I walk up 27th Street what glistens in the sunlight isn't so beautiful. There's broken glass, empty soda cans, and lots full of trash. When I reach the corner at Master Street, Adam Hill, Director of Marathon Farm, greets me. Here almost 16,000 square feet of lush garden transforms a vacant lot into fresh food for a community with few opportunities to buy produce. As Hill explains, "we also have like 44,000 vacant lots in this city and we are second only to Detroit in lack of access to fresh food. So, it just seems ridiculous if we have all this vacant land and all these people who don't have access to food, like let's grow food on that land."
Cary Borish, owner of Marathon Restaurants created this non-profit community project. Originally the idea was to grow food for the restaurants and sell a portion of the harvest to the neighbors, but as Hill explains things turned out differently once the project got off the ground, "we really wanted to focus on having this farm be something special for the community rather than for the restaurants. I still do sell produce to the restaurants once a week, but our focus is on the community more."
To keep the food affordable for all, prices are heavily subsidized through the sales to the restaurants and donations. In addition to the large scale production, there are also individual plots. Emma Latamore describes what's in her garden, "a little bit of everything to be perfectly honest. The greens have been tender, the is corn nice and sweet, tomatoes nice and plump to make my nice tomato sauce. Zucchini I was able to sauté, cucumbers I simply sliced and eat them straight." Latamore also says her plot provides other benefits besides dinner, "I'm getting a great deal of exercise because I have back injury and knee problems and this helps me do the squats and exercises that I would do in therapy. If I gotta hurt, let me hurt doing something that I like, gardening I like!"
Charlyn Magdaline is the farm's Educational Director and Community Program Coordinator. She's often at the farmstand weighing out produce and offering recipes, "we sell out of greens every week, the carrots and the beets when we have them were great sellers. The squash was definitely a learning curve for a lot of folks this season. We grew 700 pounds of it, so needless to say I was cooking a lot of squash and the restaurants have been overloaded with squash," she says.
Squash may be a hard sell, but in a neighborhood filled with fast food options Magdaline has this to say about the market's overall success. "I'm not surprised honestly, I'm not surprised that people want it. I do love seeing people surprise themselves when they are getting what they want, and then they are realizing there is less space in their life for processed foods."
Still, the real bright spot in the program is what customers have to say about Marathon Farm:
"I love I can walk a block away and I have the freshest produce in the city."
"Oh it's done a great deal for the community it's allowed the senior citizens of this community have the opportunity to buy organic food at a price that they could not get it anywhere else."
"I'm happy that we don't have to go to the store to buy vegetables and that I know it's healthy because we grow it."