Cadillac Urban Gardens: From Vacant Lot to Thriving Community Center

Overview of volunteers working hard to harvest fresh produce
Overview of volunteers working hard to harvest fresh produce

What was once a vacant parking lot littered with scrap metal, weeds, and a dreary atmosphere has been transformed into a local urban garden in Southwest Detroit’s thriving and diverse community. General Motors (GM) executive parking was located there for the former Cadillac Plant on Clark Street, but was abandoned for years. It is now buzzing with activity.

The gardens started with GM shipping carts that were left piled up with metals, plastic, and junk. The community saw an opportunity to transform the vacant property on McKinstry and Merritt street into an urban garden and reuse the carts as raised vegetable beds. About 250 of these shipping containers were hauled to the Clark Street Headquarters to be painted with the help of Rush Trucking. Planting materials, gardening equipment, gloves, water supply, and other necessities were obtained by the several Ideal Groups (Ideal Contracting, Ideal Shield, and Ideal Setech). At the same time, the community project at Scarcyny Park cleaned up the trash and litter from the surrounding streets.

Cadillac Urban Gardens on Merritt (CUGM) finally took off on May 19, 2012, and has since collected more than 60,000 youth service hours. According to their website, as a community collaboration between Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision (SDEV), the Ideal Group, General Motors (GM), residents, non-profits, businesses, schools, and other local community organizations, the CUGM was created with and for the community in mind.

The CUGM is open Wednesday through Friday from 10 to 4 p.m. and during the months of April through October. CUGM recently built greenhouses this summer with the help of volunteers from the community hoping to use them for growing crops during the colder months.

By 2021, CUGM staff and volunteers grew 4 tons of produce, most of it going out to the community members. The overall mission of Cadillac Urban Gardens is to decrease food insecurity and get produce out to the community members who need it the most. Sarah Clark, an internship leader, states, “Our most important mission here in the Cadillac Urban Gardens is to not only grow fruits and vegetables but leaders in the community.”

During urban gardening, Clark says that a vital factor they usually need to consider is maintaining the engagement of the community members. They fulfill this by displaying a teamwork-incorporated environment around one another. Urban gardening has also become such a recent trend because “it’s just the idea of people getting back to the roots of wanting to know where their food comes from,” mentions Clark.

Social issues have been impacted by urban gardening, as well, including food security, neighborhood interaction, and cohesion, reducing crime, establishing neighborhood pride, and enhancing neighborhood beautification. The model behind Cadillac Urban Gardens is to grow fruits and vegetables using sustainable gardening practices to create a zero-waste environment by composting and more efficient water strategies within the community. Clark says that the biggest barrier to the success of Urban gardening is water: “Right now, we are using city water which is not sustainable. But we have rain catchment systems built by a high school robotics team, giving us a better source of water for the plants.” Another success barrier that Clark talks about is the concrete being close to the vegetable beds since it tends to create a microclimate from the sun’s rays causing the soil to become too warm for the crops to survive. “Funding is also a challenge, especially when you want to keep the produce free,” adds Clark.

Neighborhoods surrounding the garden have responded by being part of the planting process, including youth involvement, especially teenagers who come out and give a hand displaying their commitment and leadership in the community. In the near future, Clark hopes to get rid of the concrete surrounding the vegetable beds, install tents for more shade, plant trees, and launch a new app to keep track of the produce that is collected instead of merely a scale and a sign-out sheet.

Altogether: community members gather at CUGM to harvest fresh produce, support food security and enhance their surroundings through location-based relational engagement. As a result, the garden offers locals with limited access to fresh produce a space where they can feel comfortable growing and collecting as they please. CUGM teaches the skills required for locals, both young and old, to become leaders within their communities, in addition to assisting in the creation of a system of equal distribution and accessibility of culturally relevant cuisine throughout Southwest Detroit.

Visit the Cadillac Urban Gardens on Merritt Street. Everyone is welcome!

For more information, go to @CadillacUrbanGardens on Facebook and Instagram or