They say plant a seed and things will start to blossom.
That’s exactly what Barb and Joe Matney did in their Warrendale neighborhood. The far west section of Detroit that lies only four blocks from the border of Dearborn has not been the safest place in years past. Abandoned houses on many blocks didn’t help, especially when they remained empty for years.
And then there were the empty lots, an eyesore for most. But what many saw as a sign of decay, Barb and Joe saw as a place to plant. They started a garden at the corner of Minock and Whitlock Streets, and, like most things that take root, their “In Memory of” Community Garden grew.
“People in the community would drive by at first and just stare. Then they started to toot their horns, then they thanked us. Then they started getting out of their cars to talk to us,” Barb says.
Last month, the Matneys hard work was honored with the Distinction in Placemaking award at the 2017 Detroit Community Development Awards.
The awards ceremony took place at Cobo Hall, and was presented by the Masco Corporation Foundation, Detroit Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), Michigan Community Resources (MCR), and Community Development Advocates of Detroit (CDAD). Leaders from the non-profit and business sectors enjoyed a seated dinner in the Riverview Ballroom for the annual awards that salute both community leaders and residents making real change in and around the Motor City.
At the time the Matneys started their project, Joe had recently lost both of his parents so the thought of calling their garden “In Memory of … ”seemed a fitting tribute to anyone else dealing with loss of any kind. The garden would serve as a place where anything could be remembered—a loved one, a place, a time in one’s life.
The In Memory of Garden has a total of 28 beds and sits on two vacant lots, with another to be added shortly. The Matneys grow almost every type of vegetable there is within—“every tomato you can imagine, two different types of squash, zucchini, green and yellow beans, hot peppers—all peppers—herbs, sage, oregano, cilantro, basil, spinach, onions, fennel. I could go on!” Joe says.
Barb knows the power the garden provides, just being in the midst of nature. “It’s so peaceful out there. People just like to come and sit.”
There is a library with both adult and children’s books in the garden as well as church pews and end tables serving almost as an outdoor living roomfor people to kick back and read.
Now, the Matneys have purchased an additional lot next door where an orchard will be planted. Next spring they’ll put in a veteran’s flower garden and greenhouses to extend the growing season. A pocket park—or small park—is also being planned and built right across the street.
“Kids have no place to go and play right now,” says Barb.The couple currently takes care of over 20 vacant lots as well, mowing the grass and picking up the garbage that gets tossed into them.
“It’s 24 hours a day,” says Joe.
As if she weren’t busy enough, Barb is also the president of the Warrendale Community Organization—the City of Detroit’s largest—and the South Warrendale Radio Patrol. Although she has the title, she and Joe work as a team.“If you see one of us without the other, you automatically wonder what’s wrong,” she says.
For her civic work, Barb has been showered with numerous other honors from area organizations, including the People’s Choice Award last year from Detroit LISC, The Spirit of Detroit Award, an award from Cody Rouge Community Alliance, the Power of One Dedicated Woman Award from the Neighborhood Exchange/Michigan Community Resources, and a certificate of achievement from District 7 for the Most Beautiful Garden.
Was she surprised by this award? Completely. “I’m not one for the attention. I’m kind of shy,” she says “I just do what I do because I like to do it.”
To find out more about In Memory Community Garden, visit their facebook page.
See other 2017 Detroit Community Development Awards stories published by TheHUB: