Yesterday I went to Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood for Soup at Spaulding. The weekly event, which began in August was inspired by Detroit Soup, a monthly event in Mexicantown which funds local projects through community donations. The idea behind these two “Soup” events is simple, but radical. The host cooks a lot of soup and invites community members to attend for a donation of five dollars. At the event, a handful of people present projects they’d like to accomplish in Detroit, the crowd votes and the winners collect the evenings donations. Ideas are presented to improve the city or a particular community on a small scale and when added up will have a large impact on Detroit.
At the weekly Soup in Spaulding Court, the venue is just as much a part of the story as the projects presented. Located in North Corktown off Rosa Parks Boulevard, the community is an example of what I love about Detroit. While outsiders may see vacant lots and abandoned buildings, I see Detroit’s flourishing urban agriculture movement, with community gardens and a neighborhood farm. This February, Friends of Spaulding Court (a neighborhood non-profit) purchased the abandoned set of town homes and have begun the process of renovating the units for affordable housing. At the Soup at Spaulding event, half of the donations go to the winner of the vote, while the other half goes to Friends of Spaulding Court.
At the Soup last night, there were three presenters. Up first was Travis Roberts IV and Gregg Newsom presenting their Greendome Project. The basic idea is to design a structure to extend the neighborhood’s growing season. Using earthen and low cost materials, the GreenDome will be heated by chickens, compost and geothermal energy. The dome will collect rainwater and allow them to grow from and on the surface of the dome. For more, check out the website for Detroit Domes, or become of fan of Detroit Domes on Facebook.
The second presenter was Harry Reisig, who has been developing a new program called Replanting Roots. The basic plan (from the website) is to transform two city blocks of Detroit, near neighborhoods with high rates of returning offenders, into an urban agriculture project and learning center, where a group of young men just out of prison will work and learn on 10 month paid fellowships. According to the Michigan Department of Corrections, of the 4,000 men leaving prison this year, over 1,500 of them will be returning to just a handful of Detroit zip codes plagued by blight, crime and job loss. This project will give participants the skills and the opportunity to create a sustainable life outside of prison, one that will benefit and strengthen their communities.
The last presenter was Ashley Lake, who is launching a Micro-Remediation project, using mushrooms. With Detroit’s burgeoning agriculture community, I often wonder how many soil samples are sent away for testing each year as residents begin community and backyard food gardens. In many cases residents will build raised beds to avoid growing food in contaminated soil. Many times though, after testing, the soil is cleared for growing food, and projects begin in Detroit’s soil. Ashley Lake’s idea is to creatively clean the contaminated soil by growing mushrooms. Don’t ask me to explain it in any technical way, but the simple act of growing mushrooms can soak up contaminants in the soil to make it safe for growing food. No website yet, but expect to hear more from Lake in the near future.
In the end, the Green Dome project won, and Travis Roberts IV and Gregg Newsom collected a nice donation to jumpstart their project. In four weeks they’ll return to Soup at Spaulding to report on their progress.
To me what’s great about these events is obviously the funding created for small, meaningful projects that will benefit local communities. Less obvious is the community it creates from the event itself; the radical notion of eating together and supporting your neighbors.
Even though one group won the donations, you can see the connections between the projects and it was great to see them networking and supporting each other at the event.
For more on the Soup at Spaulding event, become a fan on Facebook or just come to the weekly Soup, Thursdays at 7pm at Spaulding Court, 2737 Rosa Parks. During the cold months this winter Soup will be held at the Spirit of Hope Church at the corner of Trumbull and Martin Luther King.
If you’re interested in seeing the rest of the photos from this Soup event, please check out my Flickr page.