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History of the Earthworks Urban Farm

In 1997, Brother Rick Samyn felt a calling to start a garden at his workplace, the Capuchin Soup Kitchen. The hallmark of the Capuchin Franciscan Family is that of being in relationship with all of Creation. The Capuchin Soup Kitchen's mission to feed the hungry and care for the poor is well known. Together, these two visions formed a need to address the systemic causes of poverty, broken relationships and a wounded Earth. Earthworks was born. The response was overwhelming and positive. Brother Rick began Earthworks on a very small plot of land on the corner of Meldrum and St. Paul. In 1999, the garden expanded onto lots at the new site for the Capuchin Soup Kitchen. The success of the Earthworks expansion was the Soup Kitchen's collaboration with Gleaners Community Food Bank, which had initiated a farming project behind its store front of Beaufait Street and provided the original core group of Earthworks volunteers. The Soup Kitchen and Gleaners worked tirelessly to renovate the land, removing debris and depositing loads and loads of compost. In 2001, after a season of restoration it was time to plant.

In 2001, Earthworks began conversations with the Wayne County Department of Health as to how promote the consumption of fresh vegetables among low income families with children. Project FRESH (for Women Infant and Children (WIC)) is one program the county offers to its WIC clients. Participants receive coupons for fresh, locally grown Michigan produce purchased directly from the farmer. However, poor families often find it difficult to get to famers because of transportation limitations. Earthworks suggested that instead of having families come to the market, have the market come to the families! We began to host weekly markets at local health clinics for cash and Project FRESH sales.

Along with Project FRESH markets, Earthworks expanded its programming by including "value added" products such as canning tomatoes, pickled beets and jams to be sold as promotional items to spread the news about Earthworks. Later that season Earthworks had yet another amazing addition to its programming – honey bees! The bee project grew from humble beginnings with one bee hive donated to the Earthworks project to help in pollination, and the hope of just one sweet crop of honey to its eventual expansion to the Capuchin Retreat Center in Washington, MI and the roof top of Gleaners Community Food Bank, where the apiary grew to over 40 hives! More products were added to the list including honey and Earthworks own beeswax hand balm!

In 2003, Earthworks formed another partnership. This time, we partnered with the Iroquois Avenue Christ Lutheran Church’s WISE Coalition (Working in Support of Enrichment) to establish a youth program, Growing Healthy Kids, focused on nutrition and wholesome activities, including growing, cooking and eating homegrown food. The program has been a huge success in the way it positively impacted the lives of the children and their families. It has opened them up to a new way of being with each other and given them opportunities to explore our relationships with the land that sustains us.

In 2004, Earthworks expanded its work even further by adding a 1,300 square foot greenhouse for the production of vegetable seedlings. Today, Earthworks grows over one hundred thousand seedlings each season, both for our own gardens and for the hundreds of local family, community and school gardens participating in the Garden Resource Program Collaborative.

In 2008, Earthworks shifted most of its food distribution away from markets and into meals at the soup kitchen. Every week during the growing season the soup kitchen serves fresh veggies from the gardens on the block! We still do bring some produce to markets, mostly with our Youth Farm Stand teens. In addition, we initiated a series of monthly evening community potlucks for our neighbors and supporters to discuss topics related to food justice and began a group that meets with guests of the soup kitchen to discuss policy changes related to food and develop programs within our community to increase access to healthy, nutritious food.

Earthworks has always been a labor of love, founded on the Franciscan vision of universal sister and brotherhood of all creation. We hope that this humble effort of love and desire to reconnect ourselves with the natural world we inhabit will remain part of the beacon of hope for all peoples and for all times.

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