Hazen Pingree, American idol

December 30, 2008 at 6:11 pm 1 comment

pingree1I’m back from a hiatus…and back from the frosty midwest. Last week, I spent a day in Detroit, birthplace of America’s vacant lot garden movement.

Years before Detroit was DETROIT and America’s car capital, the city’s Progressive mayor needed a way to feed the hungry during the  economic depression of the mid-1890s.  With unemployment rising, overextended charities, and 6000 acres of vacant lots throughout the city, Pingree established a pilot program to provide poor families with small allotment gardens where they could raise their own food and sell their surplus.

In its first year (1894), 3000 families applied for 975 gardens on 450 urban acres. With a city investment of $3600, “Pingree’s Potato Patches” produced $14,000 worth of food.  The next year, with a $5000 investment and wider support, the total produce was $30,998.  As more cities heard of Mayor Pingree’s success, they adopted similar programs, under the direction of municipal governments, local charities, churches, private associations, or some combination.  By 1898, Providence was one of seventeen American cities with a vacant lot cultivation program.

pingree-plaqueOver a century later, Detroit is a leader in the contemporary urban agriculture movement. The city’s Garden Resource Program is a collaboration of the Detroit Agriculture Network, Earthworks Urban Farm/Capuchin Soup Kitchen, The Greening of Detroit, and Michigan State.

A monument to Pingree (who later served as Governor of Michigan) sits in Grand Circus Park in Downtown Detroit. THE IDOL OF THE PEOPLE still?


Entry filed under: community gardens, Detroit, food, gardens, Hazen Pingree, Providence, urban agriculture, vacant lot gardens, vegetables. Tags: , , , , , , .

P.F.1 in PVD! Rhody golden oldies

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. greenwalks  |  December 30, 2008 at 9:20 pm

    Aw, doesn’t sound like he’s too evil! Even if he’s Anglo. Cool to hear about the history of these vacant lot reclamations – we need to keep it coming back! Thanks for this interesting post.


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