Parker Street Market Brings “Drought” to an East Side Oasis

 

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I travel all the way to Detroit to find myself surrounded by folks from Brooklyn. I can’t complain when they are adding so much to the eastside community where alt space is located. Just a few blocks from our place on Field Street near Kercheval, former Brooklyn resident David Kirby and his partner Caitlin James have opened Parker Street Market in a small storefront at 1814 Parker Street in Detroit’s West Village where they offer some of Detroit’s finest products, including fresh pressed juice from Drought of which Caitlin is co-owner.

I visited Parker Street on Saturday to find David working the counter with his little helper and the place hopping. David took a moment out to greet a bicycle tour that had made his business an official stop. He came out to share some of the history of the business and to talk about his plans for the future. Parker Street will be expanding into the storefront next door to make even more fresh local products available to the growing number of residents making their home in The Villages of Detroit.Some of the funding for the expansion was raised through crowd-funding giving locals a chance to participate in the economic development of their own community.

With the vineyard as well as several other community projects get underway at alt space, it’s important to get to know our community business partners and be able to share information with anyone coming our way, all of the available resources. I was really glad to meet David and his young assistant at the market and really hope to send him lots of business in years to come. It will be a pleasure to serve our guest products that have been locally sourced and an even greater thrill to know that Parker Street Market might someday be serving wine produced from grapes grown half a dozen blocks away. That’s really looking to the future. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

Parker Street Market is open Tuesday through Friday from 9:00 am until 7:00 pm, Saturdays from 10:00 am until 6:00 pm and Sundays from noon to 5:00 pm.

A Fisheye View from Field Street

 

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I’m super thrilled to learn that there’s a farmers market on Field Street on Wednesdays from 4:00 pm until 7:00 pm. It’s the perfect time for people stopping in on the way home from work. The market is at Fields Street & Mack Avenue, just a few blocks north of the James and Grace Lee Boggs center. I learned about it during a tour of the east side that was given by the Riverfront East Congretional Initiative as party of the 100th birthday events last week.

I paid a visit today and was pretty darned happy with the produce on display, but one sign in particular caught my eye for a business called Fisheye Farms. It turns out the farm, run by mother-son team Susan and Andy Chae is only a few blocks east of alt space at 1815 Van Dyke in West Village.

Fisheye Farms, according to their Web site, is an urban farm growing local, organic produce. “Fisheye Farms, like the fisheye lens, takes a wide inclusive view of urban farming. Our mission is not only growing good food, but also nurturing strong community, and providing space for inspiration and celebration.”

On July 11 Fisheye Farms will be having a Kickstarter party at the Farm at 1815 Van Dyke in West Village, 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. T-shirts will be available, as well as food and drink. Three beautiful, planted herb boxes (Italian, French, and Asian) will be available for silent auction as well as raffle prizes. Join the fun and support Fisheye Farms.

Planting a Vinyard

 

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alt space which is a community incubator space developing sustainable independent, grassroots and community-driven projects that bring social and economic viability to the Island View community. This center for alternative work, play and lodging is now the largest vineyard in the City of Detroit since prohibition. If you’d like to learn more about the vineyard project or alt space use the contact form.

A week of events celebrating the 100th birthday of Detroit activist, philosopher and writer Grace Lee Boggs Center for Nurturing Community Leadership for the last forty years came to a close for some with a gatherings of over three hundred at the Charles H. Wright Museum. For some of us the celebration continued with a day of reflection that included members of the national visionary organizing network who have met annually for the past three years to discuss the projects, the victories and the challenges as well as re-discovering the power of conversation.

We held a morning session at alt space which brought together a handful of the growing network. Individuals spoke of the work happening in communities on the east and west coasts. There were report backs from network collaborators who are now living in Detroit in which we learned of projects in co-housing and worker cooperative development. A new participant told of her work with children of the incarcerated while another group presented on developing a visionary organizing laboratory, a place they hoped would serve as an entry-point for those who desire a clearer understand of the meaning of visionary organizing.

Visionary Organizing, based on my understanding, is place-based work to create alternatives to outdated and dysfunctional systems in order to meet the needs of individuals, their families and their neighbors. It requires working in concert with others in our community, which as Julia Putnam of the James and Grace lee Boggs School put it in her closing remarks at the Charles Wright, is not a group of like-minded individuals working towards a common goal, but individuals with different needs, beliefs, traditions, (the list went on), managing to work together for the common good regardless of how inconvenient, risky, downright impossible things seem.

We included in the Saturday report-backs, some time thinking about alt space and how to continue in the development of the project. Others expressed a desire to contribute offering input on everything from where to keep the fire extinguishers, to pricing structure and solidarity housing. A lawyer in the group volunteered to look at what the legal structure of alt space could be. We spent time on business model generation using the Business Model Canvas where everyone had a chance to input on the potential aspects of alt space as a self-sustained for movement building and putting our values into practice.

On the Sunday after the visionary organizing report-backs we held a community pot luck with others who had been part of the celebration week and neighbors from Field Street. We shared food and shared stories. There was a ceremonial planting where those in attendance got to plant their own vine and dedicate it to someone they loved. We had dedications to Jimmy Boggs, Charity Hicks and my mom Catherine Flowers, all of whom are deceased and all of whom played a role in bringing me to Detroit in the first place. The pot luck ended with a tango lesson given by Blake Kownacki, who is also the visionary farmer behind the vineyard at alt space.

Knowing Grace: The Revolutionary Grace Lee Boggs

 

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I was at the diner counter. My friend Tina worked the bar. Slow, she read while I explored a bowl of lentil soup or the Vietnamese salad or one of the three dishes I’ll eat from the menu. From the blue she sighed as one might for leaving laundry in the rain or when the expected friend sends regrets. “I really want to meet Grace Lee Boggs,” she mourned deeply. “Who’s that,” must have been my reply. I’d no idea who that was. Two weeks later and that would change.

In Grand Rapids, Michigan I attended the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (or BALLE) conference on a scholarship. A friend recommended BALLE based on my interest in sustainable development—an interest grown of involvement with the Occupy movement. BALLE is a great annual conference moving around the U.S. to honor cities that are models of citizen-powered recovery. I recommend it to anyone wondering if there’s life after capitalism.

At the opening reception I was ushered about by my sponsor—or so I believe was term used for the big sibling assigned to me as a scholarship recipient.  Handing gladly I first laid eyes on the ninety-something Chinese-American radical activist. Small, she was planted in a wheelchair near a great glass wall where western light made fiber optic blue-white hair and an arc light of white linen blazer. She posed for photographs—the tiny person once or still of interest to the FBI.

Our key speaker, she took the stage for less than ten minutes. “Come to Detroit,” was the mantra—certainly not meaning “move to Detroit” and most certainly not “buy a house down the street from me.” Thinking on it now, how fanatic-like it seems—how stalker-esque. I went regardless and did find a house on Field Street mere blocks from James and Grace Lee Boggs’ Center for Nurturing Community Leadership, Grace’s home of forty plus years.

The conference was June. In December I faced Mrs. Boggs in a comfortable living room chair of her house sharing a perhaps naive vision of what would become alt space. She heard me out and flatly asked “Does it have pipes?” and said a bed and breakfast would be nice. If you follow the blog you know the rest, or at least the thrust. Two years passed, now dear friends and colleagues have welcomed me into Detroit’s story. I am honored to be and stories remain to be told, still more are to be woven and Grace continues to ask “What time is it on the clock of the world?”

If you don’t know Grace Lee Boggs, there are ways to know. There are two films by director Grace Lee (The Grace Lee Project and American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs). You can read her book The Next American Revolution written with Scott Kurashige or her autobiography Living for Change. She’s one of many Detroit revolutionaries redefining that term, challenging us to “grow our souls.”

We All Haul

We got word about six months back that our landlord was selling the building we’ve lived in for the past ten years. It was a blow but not surprising. A small two-story house in the middle of our block sold for $1.2 million a few years ago. This is a neighborhood of long-time residents—some born here, others purchased homes reasonably in the 90’s (some under $30K), others are residents of public housing. That is changing. Affordable rentals in Red Hook are a thing of the past and purchasing a house anywhere in New York City while renovating a house in Detroit is out of the question.

Since moving to New York City we’ve been lucky to find places with access to food, transportation and good neighbors for prices we could afford, even when we were a teacher and a working actor. Each time though has ended with the same dancing interlude: Just when we’re establishing a foundation in a community the roof is sold from above. Maybe that’s the nature of the animal. I say it shouldn’t be and don’t believe it has always been. I’m definitely getting too old for this.

Ten years in one spot, the longest we’ve been able to stay in one place, and we’ve accumulated a fair amount of stuff. Anticipating the need to downsize, we decided on moving non-essentials to Detroit—a challenge a) because the Detroit house is under construction and b) we aren’t folks who have a lot of non-essentials. We agreed to move one room of furniture. I offered to throw in most of my spring and summer wardrobe as well. We rented a 12-foot Ryder and planned the trip over the winter holidays.

We looked at an apartment the day we were making the drive west. Big mistake. The last day of work before vacation and packing a truck, we’d enough on our plates. We’d also planned to stop by a friend’s holiday party. Seeing a new place served as a reminder of a lousy situation. It sparked a bitter dispute that set the tone for the next 24 hours of travel. I headed out at 9:00 pm—exhausted and alone in a truck for six hours, willing myself awake through the mountains of Pennsylvania. Traumatic. It was days recovering from both haul and argument. We missed the party.

Yesterday, Chris came home from the diner eager to share what had happened to him there. Sitting at the counter he’d overheard a couple we know having a pretty heated public spat over where they would move. They’re in a position similar to ours. One of the pair turned to Chris and asked his opinion on the matter and he wisely opted to stay out of it. I appreciated both the humor and the irony, but it was also just a too sad reminder of how many people we know are in the same boat. I don’t imagine the metaphor will be lost on any Red Hookers.

Photo Update – Washed Pine

I was stingy with the reconstruction photos during my last trip so I’m posting just a few here. In short: some wiring, plumbing and the installation of a pine wall. Those of you who have been following the saga of the Field Street house should enjoy these. More coming.

Sharing Food and Thought on Field Street

 

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On Friday, January 2, 2015 alt space broke out the chaffing dishes and dinner ware for a potluck with a few Detroiters who are transforming the city one neighborhood at a time. Yusef came from the west-side where he is Restoring the Neighbor Back to the Hood and renovating a community house. Myrtle from Feedom Freedom Growers came with a salad from the Manistique garden and music on a mobile device from which she DJ’d. Marisol, who is one of the founders of the James and Grace Lee Boggs School, arrived just as the group was settling on a central theme for the evening.

Clean Slate for the New Year

What better way to spend a New Year’s Eve than scrubbing away at hardwood floors in a hundred plus year old stone house in Detroit? I had high hopes for getting more painting and plastering done but yesterday I hit a wall (somewhat literally) and couldn’t do anymore of that kind of work.

Remembering George B.—Year End 2014

I started drawing (again) recently. I haven’t really picked up a pencil to create something since I was an undergraduate at University of the Arts in Philadelphia. My favorite drawing I’ve done is that of a horse. It took me hours and it was frustrating.