New Beginnings Garden


  • Heritage Works created New Beginnings, a community garden project on a vacant lot (2825 17th Street) that was farmed and maintained through a partnership with residents of Freedom House Detroit and youth from the Heritage Works Youth Ensemble. Freedom House Detroit is a temporary home for indigent survivors of persecution from around the world who are seeking asylum in the United States and Canada and is located in Southwest Detroit.

  • Heritage Works held two cultural exchange events that included dancing, stories, food, and language exchanges among Freedom House residents and youth ensemble members. Home regions of Freedom House participants include Uganda, Palestine, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Guinea, and Congo-Brazzaville. Youth participants worked side-by-side with the Freedom House residents to do gardening together, learning how to plant and do garden maintenance activities like weeding, planting, and spreading woodchips.

  • Youth participants played an active role through manning cultural stations and dance performances at the African World Festival at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in August.

  • As a part of this project, Heritage Works facilitated discussion among North Corktown residents regarding the garden.

HW Ensemble Youth Working in the Garden. August 2016.


Two Freedom House residents and three Heritage Works youth ensemble participants and two HW staff members were engaged in three hours a week prepping the land planting, weeding, and harvesting. Our youth ensemble had a total of nine participants. We did not anticipate the challenges regarding confidentiality involved in getting more Freedom House residents to participate in the gardening process because it was offsite. Only some Freedom House residents are allowed to leave the house (or participate in off-site activities). In addition, due to the rigor of our youth ensemble program, our students were only able to participate in the gardening process on Saturday. Due to transportation challenges, only 3 students were able to participate in the actual gardening process.

Heritage Works engaged teaching artist Idy Ciss along with members of the Heritage Works Youth ensemble in a storytelling, dance food swap on August 9, 2016 at the Freedom House. Both students and residents later expressed their appreciation for having the opportunity to interact with the one another in an attempt to learn about the role of food in other countries. Youth participants played an active role through dance performances at the African World Festival at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in August 2016. We planned to have residents from the Freedom House participate as a part of another cultural exchange activity. However, our request to the Freedom House for resident participation was denied the day before the festival due to concerns about the required confidentiality that needs to be maintained for their residents.

Heritage Works hosted a dinner for the Freedom House residents on September 28, 2016 that involved storytelling about food harvested in the residents countries. The unexpected outcome was that we were not able to host a community wide Harvest festival at Ponyride due the fact that the location was offsite and concerns about the safety and confidentiality of Freedom House residents. To complete this outcome, we hosted two activities at the Freedom House with Freedom House residents, three North Corktown residents and ensemble youth and a separate activity with North Corktown residents. This allowed management of people entering Freedom House, allowed Freedom House residents to not jeopardize their claim that their life is threatened –requirement for asylum seeking. The North Corktown meeting was to seek input on the garden within overall plans for North Corktown.

HW Youth working Head Wrapping Station at AWF. Photo Credit: Detroit Free Press. August 2016.


The New Beginnings garden provided a wonderful opportunity for Heritage Works to begin to develop a vacant lot property that we own with the input and help of North Corktown residents, Freedom House residents, and Heritage Works Youth Ensemble members. We are especially proud of the fact that everything grown in the garden was given to the Freedom House as fresh produce to supplement their meals. It was especially rewarding to be able to bring our students and the Freedom House residents together for a cultural exchange. One of the values identified by North Corktown residents for the future development of its neighborhood is Inclusion. We believe that this garden is the start of a larger North Corktown community effort to engage people of different background, bringing folks together to talk over food.