Kiddies’ Garden supported by Bay Area Kiwanis – Macomb Daily

The Bay Area Kiwanis Club supports the Kiddies’ Garden, an urban farming educational program in Detroit. It’s an idea borne of the life experience of Willie Patmon, 87, who grew up on an Oklahoma farm.

The Bay Area Kiwanis Club is raising money for the Kiddies’ Garden, a project created by club charter member Willie Patmon. The urban garden is adjacent to Patmon’s Detroit home and involves students at University Liggett School of Grosse Pointe Woods, and Detroit Prep, a neighborhood charter school.(PHOTOS SUBMITTED BY LORI STILLWELL AND MAEDEH POURRABI)

“It all happened because my grandparents from both sides, after slavery, migrated to Oklahoma,” Patmon said. “When they left slavery, they wanted to go somewhere where they could farm. Oklahoma had this land run and there they could have a farm they could properly call their own rather than be a sharecropper or tenant farmer. As far back as I can see, my family were farmers.”

He left the farm to attend college, then serve in the US Army for five years. His job during the Cold War years was to set up electronic aircraft defense systems around industrial cities.

The Bay Area Kiwanis Club is raising money for the Kiddies’ Garden, a project created by club charter member Willie Patmon. The urban garden is adjacent to Patmon’s Detroit home and involves students at University Liggett School of Grosse Pointe Woods, and Detroit Prep, a neighborhood charter school.(PHOTOS SUBMITTED BY LORI STILLWELL AND MAEDEH POURRABI)

“We had to assign ourselves to an area. I wanted to go to Detroit because I had a lot of rich uncles and aunts who lived there. The reason why I say that is because they came up here during The Depression and eventually got good jobs. When they would come home to Oklahoma to visit, they had beautiful cars, and we were still there on the farm. I thought they were the richest people on the face of the earth.”

Wherever Patmon was stationed, he set up a garden, no matter how small, to grow his own food.

The Bay Area Kiwanis Club is raising money for the Kiddies’ Garden, a project created by club charter member Willie Patmon. The urban garden is adjacent to Patmon’s Detroit home and involves students at University Liggett School of Grosse Pointe Woods, and Detroit Prep, a neighborhood charter school.(PHOTOS SUBMITTED BY LORI STILLWELL AND MAEDEH POURRABI)

Patmon has stayed in Detroit long enough to see neighborhoods thrive, then decline, with abandoned houses in his own neighborhood removed in an anti-blight campaign. Neighbors who remained were offered the chance to buy property around them.

That’s how Patmon came to own 15 lots that comprise WJP Urban Farm at 4827 Parker Street near Gratiot and East Warren avenues. He hopes to buy as many lots as become available.

Kiddies’ Garden, supported by the Bay Area Kiwanis Club with a $10,000 commitment, is two lots dedicated to children’s education in a section of the urban farm.

The Kiddies’ Garden is done in conjunction with University Liggett School of Grosse Pointe Woods, and Detroit Prep, a free public charter school nearby. It is described as “a working laboratory for the education of elementary school children using the art and science of farming.”

Patmon is a charter member of the Kiwanis club and also owns Chesterfield Vacuum and Sewing Center near New Baltimore. He fixes things.

“Growing up on the farm, we were 15, 20 miles from nowhere. If something broke you had to fix it yourself. You couldn’t just call a repairman. The Maytag Repairman wasn’t out in our neck of the woods. From a very young age, I learned you had to fix things yourself in order to keep on surviving,” he said. “I’m just an old fixer who likes to do stuff with his hands.”

His urban farm is a collection of vegetables, fruits and herbs. They are distributed to the nearby community and Detroit’s soup kitchens.

“I love it,” club president Lori Stillwell said. “The mission of Kiwanis is ‘Serving One Child and Community at a Time.’ We saw that there was such a need in the Detroit area for children in need of food, that we knew we had to help.

Willie Patmon, Pat Wybo, (back) Breck McCrory, Maria Moss, Lori Stillwell(PHOTOS SUBMITTED BY LORI STILLWELL AND MAEDEH POURRABI)

“Willie has always envisioned these gardens. Now his dream is coming true. With the hands of the Bay Area Kiwanis Club members and the schools, this is going to be the most impactful project our Bay Area Kiwanis Club could ever imagine.”

This week, Kiwanis volunteers planted seeds in biodegradable containers. Those plants are destined for the urban farm.

“I left it up to the children to recommend what we plant because I want the children to have a dog in the fight,” Patmon said. They chose cold crops like lettuce, arugula and snap peas.”

The overall cost of Kiddies’ Garden is $72,100. The project needs money to remove debris and rock, and move it legally to dumps. Composting the land and creating water hookups, and erecting a safety fence, are part of capital improvements for the two lots that each measure 30 feet by 60 feet. There are program expenses that include a tool shed, portable toilets, garden hand tools, plants and seeds.

There are some operating expenses for utilities and other things, but equipment is a major expense. It will cost more than $13,000 for a disc harrow, cultivator, rototiller, a turning plow, and fuel.

Extra things on a wish list are: a functional tractor, the purchase of two more lots, and money for student transportation.

Patmon previously taught gardening to any child in his neighborhood who wanted to learn. Many of the children were five- or six-years-old, the same age he was when he first learned from his grandmother. Now with a formal coordinated program with the schools, about 100 students will take part in the Kiddies’ Garden.

The students study weather, create planting grids, and learn the use and care of large equipment and hand tools. Children learn harvesting, crop menus for cold and hot crops, about insect-repellent crops, ornamental and pollinator herbs and flowers, and biodiversity and crop rotation. Marketing and making the garden aesthetically pleasing are part of the curriculum.

“The teachers teach students the science of agriculture in the classroom, then they come to the garden and do the actual hands-on planting, pulling weeds, plowing,” he said.

But resurrecting city lots of blight and creating fertile green spaces that regenerate neighborhoods isn’t all Patmon wants to change. He hopes to change people by teaching children to love all life on earth and to be good stewards of those lives.

As he sees it, that stewardship contains a commitment to not use chemicals.

“We won’t use pesticides or chemicals. If it isn’t all natural and all organic, I don’t use it,” he said. “In Oklahoma, we had no chemicals. There was no such thing on our crops. Fertilizer came from manure from the barn.”

Kiddies’ Garden will use only things like oil, vinegar, dish soap and tobacco juice.

“They do work, if you take the time,” he said.

The goal of the project is to promote children’s education in science, art and history — to make them wonder about the world. It is meant to get people to respect nature, and beautify an area.

But it is also meant to promote character development including discipline, appreciation for others, working with diverse people, and giving the children pride in a job well done. Children are encouraged to share their happiness and sadness, frustration and caring, while doing the physical work of gardening.

It is also meant to “teach right from wrong.”

When asked what he meant by that, Patmon responded: “There’s a couple things you learn as a farmer. Farmers trust each other. That’s a right and wrong thing. If a farmer tells you he’s going to do something, you can trust him. I never remember my Dad signing a contract for anything. His handshake was his word. You do the right thing and you don’t do the wrong thing. If you got a handshake from the guy down the road, it was real. This needs to be drilled into us as a society today.

“If you do the wrong thing like plant the wrong plant at the wrong time, everything goes up in smoke and production is zero. You follow the basic rules. Whether it’s a handshake or planting at the right time, you learn that discipline or you won’t be successful in life,” Patmon said.

The Bay Area Kiwanis Club is planning fundraisers for the garden project. Members meet once a month and commit to doing a service project monthly. They meet at the Chesterfield Library. Contact Stillwell for more information at 586-295-7957.

Rotary celebrates Earth Day

April 22 is Earth Day. On April 23, Rotary District 6380 holds an Environmental Work Day in the US and Canada. Members of clubs in southeast Michigan and a part of Ontario that comprise that district will celebrate, support and bring awareness to Rotary International’s Seventh Area of ​​Focus — the Environment.

“We are actively planning an outdoor, hands-on project in Ann Arbor and request the participation of all district Rotarians, family and friends,” District Governor Brenda Tipton said.

They are cleaning up raised beds and spreading wood mulch at Willow Run Acres, an educational farm focused on teaching children how to connect with nature and about the origin of their food.

“There will be some assembling of the FarmBot robot farming machine which was obtained through a multi-club district grant,” she said. “In Canada, there will be similar coordinated efforts for a Watershed Cleanup day.”

For more information, see Rotary6380.org

Send news of service clubs and veterans organizations to Linda May at lindamay@ameritech.net or call landline 586-791-8116.

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