Sunday, June 13, 2010

In 2010 The Church Without Walls has agreed to take over the volunteer work for the Home Ave. garden. Phil will continue as mentor for the volunteers as he's done since the beginning. We expect to have another beautiful garden which will soon be producing vegetables for the local community.

Monday, January 11, 2010

2009 photo

Home Street Garden is included in Edible Flint's photo album posted on Facebook.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Phil does it again!

What a wonderful representation of Genesee Master Gardener Volunteers at last Saturday's 2009 Keep Genesee Beautiful Community Beautification Leadership Conference, as conference attendees, and, most notably when the winners were announced for the 2008 Beautification Awards! Of the thirteen projects which received awards, six had Master Gardener involvement! Congratulations to MGV's Greg Tobin, Ginny O'Brien, Phil Downs, Carolyn Meekins, and Dora & Jacky King, and MG trainee Mildred Smith, and the MGV's who assist on these projects, we are very proud of your great work!
KGCB Grant proposals are available now for the 2009 season, and are due one week from today on March 20. For more information, go to:
and click on the 2009 Mini Grant Application tab, and check out what is involved - you may want to propose your project for one of the 2009 Ruth Mott Beautification Mini-Grants this year!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Press Clips

Urban gardens gain popularity as economy stumbles
Posted by Elizabeth Shaw
The Flint Journal
March 05, 2009

FLINT, Michigan -- Record numbers of tax foreclosures are looming all across Genesee County this year. The Genesee County Land Bank has 2,477 vacant residential lots in the city of Flint, with city officials planning to knock down another 500 abandoned houses this year -- double last year's number.

But a growing army of urban agriculturists is putting a green lining on all that empty inner-city landscape, filling it with gardens that can feed the hungry, create new business opportunities and enrich people's lives.

It's a great way to turn eyesores into resources, said Jeff Burdick of the Genesee County Land Bank.

"I see it as a gold mine," agreed longtime martial arts instructor Jackie King of Youth Karate-Ka Association-Harvesting Earth Educational Farm, which opened a greenhouse and mini-farm last year on a vacant Princeton Avenue lot in Genesee Township with a $100,000 grant from the Ruth Mott Foundation.

"Gardening itself is nothing new. It's just where you're doing it at," said King, who said he and wife Dora grew about $5,000 worth of produce in their first season last year, with the help of about 50 neighborhood volunteers. "This is one of the best things happening right now in an age and time when things are just not the same anymore."

Master Gardener and retiree Phil Downs (left), 61, shows a plant to LaVonna Huddleston of Flint while working on the vegetable garden he designed on a vacant lot controlled by the Genesee County Land Bank last year at the corner of Chestnut Street and Home Avenue in north Flint. Downs started the gardens in the spring of 2007 after reading about high rates of poverty in the city, hoping to teach the community how to grow their own vegetables instead of buying them at higher prices in grocery stores.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Beautiful Vegetable Garden makes the local newspaper

Gardener Phil Downs aims to feed residents, beautify city
By Beata Mostafavi | The Flint Journal
Saturday July 26, 2008, 12:03 AM

FLINT, Michigan -- Sporting a straw hat under the glare of summer heat, Phil Downs strolled through the corner of a north Flint neighborhood that was once barren, abandoned and sprouting with weeds. "It was just nothing," he said.

But on a recent sizzling July morning, in the midst of vacant homes, Downs showed how the corner has literally bloomed.

The patch of land now shimmers with lush green and red leaves and is sprinkled with tomatoes, squash, sweet peas, beets and dill.

"I was told that it would never happen," said a smiling Downs, 61, while working in the eyesore-turned-vegetable-garden with a crew of community volunteers.

The soft-spoken retired Chesaning School District social worker and master gardener designed the veggie garden to spruce up the neighborhood and provide food to area residents.

Downs got in touch with the Genesee County Land Bank, whose leaders had explored the idea of urban gardening as a way to transform vacant sites and was searching for someone to help.

"It's amazing the way something can start from nothing and can become so beautiful," said Lavonna Huddleston, 40, who lives a couple of houses away from the garden. "He's doing a beautiful thing."

Huddleston, who sometimes helps out with garden work when she sees Downs and other volunteers there, said empty spots attract trouble.

Some people even warned Downs that a vegetable garden would never last here, that someone would come along and destroy it.

But neighbors, whom Downs calls "garden angels," watch guard over their neighborhood treasure decked with a "Keep Genesee County Beautiful" sign.

"It really does improve that corner," said Lue Flood, 67, who lives across the street and provides water for the garden. "It helps the neighborhood. Sometimes you'll see all these people out there getting food."

Downs' vision is that gardens like this could bloom all over the city and that more locals, especially those in low-income areas, can learn how to grow their own food.

"I feel it's helping the community, giving them the opportunity to learn some skills," said Downs, who grew up on a farm and has taught garden seminars in the area.

"It gives you a chance to save money and eat healthy food."

Downs, who spends several hours a week with other volunteers taking care of the garden, is most concerned about food safety and affordability. He also would like to see a local program that gives people access to free compost.

Access to water and a lack of compost are the biggest challenges for urban gardens, Downs said. He looked at more than 30 sites before picking this spot on the corner of Home Avenue and Chestnut Street that has sunlight but also shade from a nearby silver maple tree.

The garden lover designed the site to look like a perennial garden with plants that have different textures and heights and are divided by a weaving walking path.

Land Bank lead planner Christina Kelly said Downs' garden is a pilot project and it is hoped that more will follow.

"He's really passionate and wants people to be empowered to grow their own food and use wetlands wisely," Kelly said of Downs.

"The vegetable garden he designed on this site is very attractive. It's a good example of how you can put a vacant property back into productive use. It's just extremely valuable."

2008 Planting Grows Beyond Expectation

We added about four inches of compost to the existing beds before we planted this Spring. That was enough to allow the tall plants to stand upright.

We planted both the seeds we ordered and the plants we were given. Everything has grown rapidly. Too rapidly, as it turns out, we don't have the diversity of plants we intended as the beans, squash, and tomatoes have grown so quickly that slower starting plants were shaded out.

To eliminate the problem with our trellises failing as the fruit became heavy, we have strengthened both the long trellises and the tomato cages. So far so good. The plants were easily trained onto the trellises.

We have begun harvesting lettuce, summer squash, and radishes. The neighbors have taken the vegetables as we wanted. The community as begun to be more involved as we hoped they would.

We'll be having a recipe exchange/cooking demonstration in the next couple weeks.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Dill and the long winter's rest

Gardeners have the habit of winter dreaming about next year - it looks like some good progress is in the works for the Applewood Gardening Initiative. Genesee County is greening up and beautifying! Stay Tuned...

A gift from the garden.

Dill is the herb that Scandinavian mothers use (in a tisane) to lull their babies to sleep. Completely safe, the seeds and foliage are both useful.
We harvested some great dill plants at the fall garden cleanup. I didn't think they would produce, we planted them so late! We didn't harvest seed, but the plants grown in that beautiful compost were wonderful.

I brought the plants home, dried the leaves in my handy dehydrator, and filled three spice-sized jarfuls for our gardeners. A jar of dillweed in the market runs about $3.50 these days. We got a good return on a few plants!

I learned something else from our garden this year (I grew up in town and didn't learn gardening at my mother's knee like so many folks) - I learned to just keep planting, dill at least... it's never too late!
And keep planting the love of gardening and the skills to garden successfully, it's never too late for that either.