Ex-UM player Vincent Smith cultivates support for Flint garden project

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Team Gardens volunteers.

When former Michigan running back Vincent Smith was growing up in Pahokee, Fla., he and his friends would run and climb trees, and eat the fruit they yielded.

Smith last played for Michigan in the 2013 Outback Bowl, which produced the highlight that seemed to be shown endlessly — South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney blasting unblocked through the UM offensive line and slamming Smith, sending his helmet flying and forcing a fumble on the momentum-shifting play.

People still recognize Smith because of that play, but these days he is drawing attention for his nonprofit community cleanup and garden work that first started in his native Florida and has now moved to Michigan where he currently lives.

"I'm a 21st century farmer, I've told myself," Smith said, laughing, this week.

Vincent Smith played for Michigan from 2009-12.

Smith and his Team Gardens project are hosting a three-hour "Flint Garden Day" on Sunday beginning at noon on a piece of land at 911 Cottage Ave. When Smith and Michigan teammate Martavious Odoms hatched the idea during their college careers to build a community garden in Pahokee, the hope was to connect athletes and fans while mentoring youth and cleaning up neighborhoods to build gardens.

"It's about teamwork — that's why we call it Team Gardens," Smith said. "Everyone is part of the team."

His former teammates Justice Hayes and Thomas Rawls got him thinking about Flint, and when he visited the city, he was reminded of his hometown. A large plot of land was donated for this project.

"We're trying to spread the word and get people involved in the community and get them aware of what our goal is and that's to teach people about health and nutrition at a young age," Smith said. "We're trying to impact the community with a different approach."

Smith wants the community to help build and harvest green spaces with the hope of removing blight and revitalizing neighborhoods, while providing fruits and vegetables for those in the community and to be sold. The Pahokee gardens have yielded two harvests.

This will be the first garden with which he's been involved planting outside of Florida, and he wants to make clear he is not only enlisting those who are Michigan fans.

"Michigan State has their green thumb, and we can collide on this and make this a healthy rivalry," Smith said.

For information, visit TeamGardens.org, and if you're interested in donating to the Flint garden project, visit the GoFundMe page at FeedFlint.org.