Marilyn Sundstrom tells how the North Cass Community Garden grew

Marilyn Sundstrom

When Marilyn Sundstrom was first presented with the idea for a community garden across the street from her home on Second Avenue, she wasn’t exactly confident this was something that could work. In fact, let’s just say she wasn’t confident at all.

“It was sort of interesting; Sue Mosey approached me one day – I’ve known Sue forever- and she said ‘Do you think you’d be interested in a garden across the street?’ And I said, ‘Across the street there?’ ‘Yeah,’ she said. ‘Do you have any neighbors you think might be interested?’ Because it was a derelict Texaco gas station. The building was still up, but it was nasty, and it had been closed for years. It was never a gas station since I’ve lived here. It was a taxi place where they stored cabs.”

So Marilyn talked to one of her neighbors, Brian, who seemed like he might be interested to at least hear what this was all about. Sue Mosey said there would be a lunch at the nearby Traffic Jam restaurant with “a bunch of neighbors” to further discuss the idea.

“I met Annmarie [Borucki, Special Projects Manager for Midtown Detroit] then, and there were a couple of people from Canfield Street, and a couple other neighbors that I didn’t really know very well.  And so we had lunch, and then the discussion started about would you be interested, and my neighbor Brian and I were sitting there like ‘um-hm, so much pie in the sky that is’.”

But despite the initial doubts of Marilyn and her neighbor, the supporters pushed on to make their case that there would be a fence around the new garden and that it would be secure. This was something that could really work. Honest. Just wait and see. Just tell us what you need.

“And we were sitting there nodding our heads. Um-hm. Sure enough. So Brian and I were just chuckling. We thought, well, it was a nice lunch anyway.”

This was six years ago in 2008. By the following spring of 2009, the North Cass Community Garden, just north across the alley from the El Moore, was a brand new reality making its way from imagination to completion.

“It really happened. I couldn’t believe it,” said Marilyn, who now has a plot of her own in the garden and is one of the most active, enthusiastic and long term members. “Suddenly there was activity.”

“One day we had a cleanup and oh my word, we had two huge dumpsters full of junk. Because street people were tenting, camping, living in the trees over there. There were trees and high weeds, and they could do their activities. The hookers, etc. It was just a busy place. Anyway, we had maybe 70 volunteers that day. Huge on cleanup day. And Tom from the Green Garage had lunch for us that day at the Motor City Brewery. For all the volunteers. And we had tons of people.”

A couple days later some large machines showed up where the old gas station used to be – then the future location of the garden – to break up the concrete and dig up the dirt which was contaminated because of the gas station that had been there. A barrier was put down, and then new dirt.

“It was just amazing to watch,” she said.

From that point forward the volunteers were formed into various work groups, all of them contributing whatever tools and knowledge that they had. Some knew a lot, some didn’t know much at all, but together they all came together throughout the neighborhood to realize a community garden in the Cass Corridor. In Detroit.

April 2009 it was begun. By Memorial Day? It was done.