A Detroit Non-Profit Supports A Greener, Cooler Earth One Vacant Lot At A Time

When Joe and Barb Matney of In Memory of Community Garden and the Warrendale Community Organization in Detroit, Michigan read about Project EverGreen’s Our Winning Green Space Contest last fall they didn’t think they had much of a chance of winning.

“We entered on a lark, hoped for the best but certainly didn’t plan on winning,” recalls Barb Matney, who runs, with her husband, Joe these two non-profit organizations that collaborate with the City of Detroit to transform vacant city lots into community gardens and ‘pocket parks.’

The Matneys recall a time when neighborhood residents knocked on doors asking for food and those knocks went unanswered. Residents of Detroit’s Warrendale neighborhood became more isolated, and locked their doors and in turn their neighbors out.

“There was a disconnect going on and people were not making the effort to get to know or help their neighbors,” says Matney.
This inspired the Matneys to take Detroit’s vacant lots and transform them into community gardens that would serve a two-fold purpose – establish vegetable gardens to help feed residents and establish a safe place where people could connect through a common interest and get to know one another.

As their efforts took root – literally and figuratively – the Matneys found they had more lots to maintain and that is where winning the Our Winning Green Space contest became a blessing.

“Before we were able to maintain eight properties on a weekly basis but now with the Exmark mowers we can handle more than 20,” says Matney. “Residents notice when the properties are maintained on a regular basis and it has prompted them to take better care of their own property.”

One of the ‘pocket parks’ and vegetable gardens in Detroit’s Warrendale neighborhood that Joe and Barb Matney maintain.

Matney says the maintained properties draw people out from behind closed blinds and get them engaged in establishing the vegetables gardens and green spaces where children and adults can play, exercise or simply enjoy the outdoors.

The proximity to being in the neighborhood is important since the closest large park with a playground is more than a mile away and that is a deterrent for getting involved. As part of the renovation, a playground will be installed in one of the ‘pocket parks.’

“There is nothing better than hearing a child’s giggle as they play outdoors or experience planting a vegetable garden for the first time,” says Matney. “It builds confidence for them to try new things right in their own neighborhood.”

In addition to having a safe place to regularly play and exercise and access to fresh fruits and vegetables for healthier eating, both children and adults are given the chance to engage as families in these ‘pocket parks.’

What does Matney say to a non-profit entity or parks and recreation department considering entering the Our Winning Green Space contest?

”What is being offered to your community is amazing and it gives you a chance to expand your efforts to create and maintain more green spaces,” says Matney. “It has helped us jump a little higher in pursuing our objectives and that means so much for so many.”

The Our Winning Green Space contest is done in partnership with Exmark Manufacturing, the Sports Turf Managers Association and The Foundation for Safer Athletic Fields for Everyone.

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