Saturday, March 3, 2018

The Fruit That Has Been Grown

Every plant sprouts from a seed. We remembered the journey we partook in together as we ate breakfast, packed our bags, and cleaned the retreat center. Some of the group members were very tired as they were recovering from a pillow fight the night before. After the van was packed, we headed to the Detroit Eastern Market. The area allowed local farmers and merchants to sell their produce under one big roof. Here, we shopped around and grabbed some lunch to go. We also meant up with Tyler, the assistant farmer at EarthWorks, and spent some final moments with him.
After departing the market, we were officially headed back to Erie! The drive home consisted of many naps, rap sessions, and reflections of the week. 
When you plant a seed, there is no guarantee that anything will come out of it. There is a lot of time, nourishing, and dedication involved. With enough work and little bit of luck, the seed will begin to sprout and from roots. Soon, the stem will begin to stretch towards the light. Five months ago, we all applied to be apart of this trip, not really knowing what would come out of it. After several meetings and activities, we began to get to know each other. Over the course of the week, we all contributed in our unique ways. Through deep talks, many laughs that were so hard we could not breathe, and being part of new experiences, we were able to rise towards the sun. Justin, aka the head blogger, had some final thoughts: “I could never put this experience into words, but I would say the biggest things I have learned are to love every person where they are at, be open to new experiences, and there will always be a reason to have hope.” Now, we at back at Gannon in Erie having some final group bonding. Although the people of the city have mixed opinions, Detroit has a beautiful history of resilience and is filled with potential. We hope this blog has provided some new insights to our viewers and encourages seeds to be planted in new ways.  

Friday, March 2, 2018

The Last Supper

This morning we woke up early to stop at On The Rise Bakery for a second time. We wanted to pick up some baked goods for the lovely staff at EarthWorks. For the first half of the day we continued our conversation with the staff about urban farming and diversity. Ryan, one of the student leaders, commented that, “diversity makes the garden beautiful.” Patrick, the head gardener at EarthWorks, was quick to respond and said that, “diversity makes the garden more resilient.” Speaking more on the issues of food scarcity, he also mentioned “I’m not saying everyone should return to being hunter-gathers, I’m just saying we should question the things that are defined. What is true progress? Needing more things is the sickness of modernity.” To go off of his point, Julia brought up this quote from Gandhi: “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.” She continued to say that “This experience has inspired me to be more sustainable in my own life by giving me the tools and education to garden for myself.” After our conversations, we purchased some EarthWorks gear for ourselves to bring back to campus. 
Due to the weather conditions, there was a smaller number in of people in the cafeteria than normal. Those who were there seemed to be pretty positive about the city and their experiences. 
Following lunch, we were able to work in the greenhouse. Here, we worked on sifting soil, planting seeds, general cleaning, and helping them prepare for the upcoming growing season. Earlier in the week, Julia mentioned that she wanted to start her own garden and Wendy, an EarthWork’s employee, took note of that. Today Wendy gifted Julia with a succulent, with the intent of it being the first edition to her new garden. In our final moments at EarthWorks, we said our goodbyes to the staff we had grown with over the past week and took some group pictures. 
After saying our goodbyes, we returned to the Retreat Center to get ready for a sunset prayer at an Islamic Mosque. On our way there, we discussed some thoughts we had about the religion and appropriate behaviors to practice. The community was hospitable and welcoming. A few members gave us an overview of Islam and answered any questions we had. We went to a five minute community prayer service inside the Mosque. Afterwards, the staff unexpectedly provided us with a home cooked meal and engaged in personal conversations with us. They made it easy to see the parallels and connections between Islam and Catholicism. 
In our final reflection, we compared statistics from the Detroit area to those of our hometowns. This brought up conversations of people being put in situations beyond their control. We also discussed the issue of white privilege and examples we saw throughout the week, ending our final night together by thanking each other for all that we brought to the weekend. 

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Frozen In Time

Our day began just like the past couple days, with us eating breakfast and heading to EarthWorks. It was our first day with not so great weather. The whole morning it was raining and and the whole afternoon it snowed. With these weather conditions, the staff decided it would be best to stay inside and talk with us more in detail about urban farming and the city. We discussed Detroit’s history, the founding of EarthWorks, and the issues of public transportation in the city. Adriana mentioned “It was striking to hear that some people spend four to five hours a day using public transportation to get to work. It is totally different from anything I have ever experienced.” 
Detroit also has the highest rate of car insurance in the country, which makes it difficult to purchase a car. During lunch, we talked with individuals who had both positive and negative views on the city. Joe expressed “Each turn or decision that you make affects the plans that you have for the future. You can never plan what life has in store for you. Sometimes, it's the unexpected that makes the biggest impact. ‘Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are gonna get.’ - Forest Gump.” We also discussed the relationship between aiding and enabling those in need. 

In the evening, we traveled about forty five minutes to a Gannon Alumni Dinner in Troy, Michigan. We spent around two hours talking with alumni who now live in Detroit and everyone had a great time. Due to the snow storm, many were not able to attend. Those who did make it were Mary Klupp (class of ‘73) and her husband Fred Klupp, Tanya Postwaite (class of ‘08) and her husband David Postwaite (class of ‘09), and Peter Mulard (class of ‘16). These alumni gave a valuable insight on interview skills, resumes, college in general, and career advice to us as students.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Sharpest Tool In The Shed

Today marked the start of the second half of the trip and our group is starting to think more how we have changed and how we can bring back our newfound knowledge back to Gannon. After making some pancakes this morning, we headed off to our third day working at EarthWorks. Today they had a large variety of tasks for us to that needed to be accomplished. There were about twenty volunteers and they decided to split us up into four groups. The first group walked around the property and picked up trash in the gardens and surrounding areas.The second group worked on cutting up tree limbs so they were more manageable for the waste management company to collect. The third group worked on filtering soil and preparing it for gardening and the fourth group dug up tree roots.
After spending some time at our respected jobs, we headed to lunch in the soup kitchen to meet new people over lunch. Everyone went off in pairs of two and picked a random table in the room. The funny thing was that every table we sat at had a discussion on a topic we never expected. These individuals who were significantly older and lived in a different area from us still had similar problems and struggles to us as teenagers. They still struggled with relationships, social situations, and other daily issues. It was profound to be able to apply our lessons on kinship from the previous day to these discussions. Even though we seemed so different from one another, we were still human beings who deal with similar issues. 
Following lunch, we headed back to work. We then split in to two groups, one for composting and sifting dirt and one for raking leaves off the field and removing trash. After a few hours we finished our day at EarthWorks and collectively made the decision to visit the Father Solanus Guild, which contained a chapel and exhibits of information about the friar. As soon as we walked in the door we saw the casket of Fr. Solanus, who was in desperate need prayers as he is being considered for sainthood. He felt the call to be in Detroit during the beginning of his life as a priest and worked towards helping to alleviate the pain of the poor. 
As soon as we left the chapel, we were back on the original schedule and visited the Heidelberg Project. It is a public art display in one block of Detroit. At first glance, the group did not see much meaning in the work and was rather confused by it. When we started to look deeper and explore further, we began to see how the art reflected the struggles of the time in which it was created. This included struggles which are still present today. The project was started by an artist who lived in the area and saw how much his neighborhood had changed once he returned from the Vietnam War. His work was in responds to the race riots of 1967 and it called attention to the issues that were present while helping people realize the need for change. Ryan, one of the student group leaders, stated today “Traveling to the Heidelberg project today was undoubtedly a startling and striking experience for our group. I think there is something truly beautiful in art that immerses oneself into a narrative decades in the making, forcing you to question your reality and surrounding world, and leaving one wondering what is and can be.”
The group traveled back to the retreat center and cooked dinner. Our second group decision of the day came when we began to crave something sweet. Heather was gracious enough to drive us to a frozen yogurt place nearby. It was a quick trip and we made great conversation with teenagers who grew up in the area. We started reflections on our day shortly after we returned to the retreat center. Our main focus tonight was the Heidelberg Project and our interpretations of it. With some research and insight from the artist’s sister, we came to the conclusion that the art had a distinct purpose of enacting change for the community. For us today, it served as a reminder that sometimes we forget that these issues still exist.

Getting Dirty

Until today, we had made homemade meals for our breakfast every morning. This morning we decided to change it up and instead went to an establishment called “On The Rise Bakery.” It is a small restaurant that employs individuals who were previously incarcerated. Here, we filled up on delicious, giant cinnamon buns that were a perfect way to start our day. After each of us had a large amount of sugar and caffeine, our group traveled to EarthWorks. 
Half of the group finished pruning the trees from the previous day while the other half pulled grape vines and cleaned up the garden. Time seemed to past by fast, and soon we were gathering for lunch in the soup kitchen. We stepped out of our comfort zones and split off from our large group into small groups of two or three people. Each group sat with strangers and did their best to have a conversation over lunch. A variety of different perspectives were experienced during this time. Some individuals eating at the soup kitchen had jobs, but were still considered poor, while others were seeking employment and living in poverty. There were also individuals who had grown up experiencing homelessness and have never been able to escape the cycle. A few residents had mentioned that they feel that Detroit has been decreasing in value or “getting worse” over the past few years - it was a new perspective that we have not yet heard this week. Other groups had conversations about sports, artificial intelligence, conspiracy theories, and/or music. Amanda stated that, “I think stereotypes are a large problem in today’s society. Often people fail to realize that not everyone they see in impoverished. You cannot judge someone by how they look. I met some great people today and loved listening to their story without knowing their financial status.” After lunch, we went back to work and spent the afternoon cleaning garden patches, picking up trash, and gathering clean soil. 
Our evening plans consisted of a guided tour of The MoTown Museum and making dinner at the retreat center. The museum was amazing. It was great to be in a space that was such a big part of our musical history. We were even in the same room that some of our favorite artists not only once stood, but also recorded their greatest hits. Many people found it very interesting to see how the music of the time helped to promote and expedite the civil rights movement. Celebrities used their talents and fame to advocate for issues and it is a practice that is still used today. After the tour, we retired to the retreat center to eat dinner and begin some discussion. A main topic point was the importance of dignity for the underprivileged. To close off the night, we reflected on solidarity and kinship and how we often forget that we are all humans. 

Monday, February 26, 2018

Work Hard, Play Hard

Last night a few of us were up until two in the morning preparing for this morning’s breakfast so coffee was an essential part of starting off the day. After enjoying some delicious breakfast, we headed to our first day at EarthWorks, a nonprofit organization that works towards creating a more sustainable food source through urban farming. We received a tour of the grounds and an extensive lesson on pruning trees. Since none of our group is very familiar with farming, it was a different perspective to put in the work to grow food rather than buy it at the store. While half of us stayed to prune some trees, the rest of our group helped in cleaning up and preparing a small lot and a greenhouse for the upcoming growing season. 
For lunch, we ate in the soup kitchen that is associated with EarthWorks. Many of our group members agreed that there were some uncomfortable feelings because we were being served in a food kitchen rather than being the ones doing the serving. After lunch, the groups headed back to their designated tasks. David stated “I loved getting to finally see EarthWorks and help out. The people are amazing and I have learned so much already. I’m really looking forward to the rest of the week.” We departed EarthWorks in the late afternoon and headed to Belle Isle. At this point, we all began to relive our childhood. All of us walked on the icy lake, played tag, climbed some trees, and hung out on the playground. After about two hours, we ate dinner at Yemen Cafe, a Middle Eastern restaurant. Everyone in the group experienced and enjoyed some new foods. 
Back at the retreat center, we began to reflect on the day. Heather, one of our faculty facilitators, mentioned that she felt a certain grace from seeing all the student’s willingness to be present to situations that had the potential to be uncomfortable for them. We discussed the surprising difficulty that comes along with farming and how we tend to take advantage of our food. It was easily agreed on that the staff at EarthWorks, like all the other people we have encountered, were entertaining, positive, and saw the purpose in their work. Our group also had a conversation about the concept of white privilege and how we have become more aware of it. Often those in need have become a part in the vicious cycle of poverty. Overall, the day was filled with joy, laughter, insight, and new experience. 

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Looking Back to Move Forward

        After a hearty homemade breakfast, we headed to a local church for the Sunday service. The church was unique in the fact that it had both Catholic and Baptist traditions. Their community and music ministry were excellent. Even though our group comes from a variety of different religious backgrounds, we unanimously agreed that the service was beautiful and that it started off our day on a positive note. Ari mentioned that “The church overwhelmed me with joy when the people swarmed us with hugs and blessed us with peace and grace. The choir presented such an enthusiasm and spirit within their songs and it showed us how much love and passion they have for the grace of God and the community of Detroit.” After an almost two-hour service, we went over to their cafeteria and engaged in conversations with some of the congregation. By sitting down and delving into relationships, we were able to get to know more about the people who has been so welcoming to us. This community was a living witness of people who had fought and lived through the hardships surrounding the city, yet they filled atmosphere with hope and happiness. 
After lunch at the retreat center, we traveled to the Detroit Historical Museum. They had a great amount of detail that covered the walls top to bottom. Some of the museum’s highlights were Kid Rock, the city’s car industry, Detroit’s impact on freeing slavery, and the race riots of the 1960s. It was a very large promoter of the saying “looking back to move forward”. The museum’s set up prompted visitors to think about what Detroit will be like in the coming decades. After leaving the museum, we visited a local coffee shop where customers could purchase an extra cup of coffee for an individual in need. 
Our main focus of the trip is food security, so we looked into certain neighborhoods access to grocery stores. First, we visited “Pick & Save” on Seven Mile. The store had a moderate amount of people in it, limited amounts of fresh food, was in a lower income area, and had high security, but they also had a friendly staff. Next we visited “Whole Foods” which was located in the downtown area. This store was directed toward an upper class and was relatively crowded, had a large variety, and higher prices. The perk was that they had free samples! We wanted tot focus on how the environments and prices differed. After our shopping experiences, we returned to the retreat dinner, cooked a Mexican feast, and reflected on our day. Our whole group realized that all our interactions with the people of Detroit have been positive and hospitable. We also discussed the vicious cycle of living in a food desert and how the best way to end it is with strong community efforts.