Detroit — Nestled in the busy heart of downtown, Lafayette Greens has become more than simply a community garden.

More than a year after Greening of Detroit took over the gardens near Lafayette and American coney islands, it's become something of a classroom and community meeting place. Along with 35 raised garden beds and benches, the hotspot along Lafayette Boulevard now hosts free evening classes on belly dancing, yoga, tai chi and gardening.

"We didn't want people to just pass through, we want people to stay and utilize the area," said Rebecca Salminen–Witt, president of Greening of Detroit. "The objective is to offer more to the community while educating people about urban farming."

The nonprofit took over the gardens in April 2014 from Compuware, whose employees started the garden on a half-acre of what was once the Lafayette Building in 2011. The land is tended by volunteers, who share its food along with Gleaners Community Food Bank and Freedom House.

The effort does more than just grow food. It changes people's attitudes about farming, said Romondo Woods II, 23. He started as an apprentice one year ago and is now a farm coordinator for the Lafayette Greens who informs people about urban farming.

"People take our city for granted and is unaware of what it has to offer," Woods said. "When you have your own garden, you will always have enough resources for food. All lifestyles can benefit."

For others, Lafayette Greens are an oasis to escape from the bustle of work.

"I come here a couple times a week. It's a nice place to have a quiet relaxing lunch," said Bill Houghton, who works for Meridian Health Plan on Woodward.

Greening of Detroit officials hope to soon spread the benefits of farming citywide, launching an initiative to transform vacant lots into gardens.

"Gardens bring residents together, while improving the air quality," Salminen–Witt said. "It's really exciting and interesting to see the growth within the local neighborhoods."

The effort also has gotten younger people interested in agriculture.

Indya Hunt and Raymond Banks are interns at Green Corps, an eight-week program through the Greening of Detroit in which students help maintain trees and garden beds throughout the city.

"Being involved with this internship really changed my view of gardening. I thought it was something that only older people did," said Hunt, a junior at Harper Woods High School. "People our age should know how to harvest land because you never know what can happen where these skills can come in handy."

Banks said urban farming is more than just about growing vegetables.

"This is really a positive impact on the city. The garden looks really nice in the area and it's a peaceful place to come during work," said Banks, a senior at Cass Technical High School. "Planting your own food helps you to be more aware of what you put into your body."

(313) 222-1855

At a glance

For more information about Lafayette Greens, visit or phone (313) 237-8733.

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