Growing Good Ideas
The Environmental Interpretive Center maintains a 1-acre Community Organic Garden (COG) on a hill behind the Grounds Building of UM-Dearborn (View map) and bordered on its eastern side by the Rouge River Gateway Trail. While the Garden has existed at its present location since the mid-1990s, UM-Dearborn first established an organic garden on its campus in 1970 through the efforts of the former Dearborn Naturalist Association, a University-sponsored student organization.
The present Garden consists of nearly fifty 300+ square-foot garden plots available for rental, as well as volunteer-managed theme gardens, and an enabling garden area with raised garden beds accessible for people in wheelchairs or with other physical limitations. The enabling garden was made possible with a donation from the Detroit Garden Club in the late 1990s. Members of the Garden Club of Dearborn regularly use the flowers and herbs that they grow in the enabling garden for horticulture therapy sessions with patients from Oakwood Common Skilled Nursing Center.
Individual plots in the Garden are available for lease on a yearly basis for a nominal fee. Such fees are used to purchase equipment and supplies for the gardeners, or for general maintenance of the gazebo, sheds, compost bins, benches, and other items in the Garden. An online plot registration form is available for returning Gardeners to secure their plot or for new gardeners to get on a list to be contacted about potential available plots. (Available in February 2020)
The Garden currently operates with a volunteer Steering Committee comprised of highly active Garden participants and an elected chairperson. This group meets monthly to discuss garden-related issues. The Committee’s Chair works with the Center's COG Coordinator, Rick Simek, to arrange repairs and general upkeep of the Garden.
The Community Organic Garden has a formal policy regarding gardening and land-use practices. In accordance with federal and state regulations regarding the production of organic produce, gardeners are prohibited from using synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. Also, they are forbidden from growing woody perennials, such as trees or shrubs, and they are not allowed to grow any plants recognized as invasive species in Michigan. Gardeners are encouraged to employ best management organic practices, such as composting, mulching, rotating crops, and using cover crops and polycultures.
The Garden is a wonderful location for camaraderie among gardeners and visitors who notice it because of its proximity along the paved walking/bike path of the Rouge River Gateway Trail. The COG is also home to the Children’s Garden, where the Center offers two children’s summer gardening programs called Kinder-Gardening and Sprouts. Young gardeners tend vegetables and flowers in their own mini-garden plots. They also participate in garden games and crafts, as well as small science experiments.