from Detroit Innovation Exchange and MODEL D.
Hamtramck is a city that sits within the city of Detroit. It was traditionally a Polish neighborhood but is now home to a variety of ethnic groups.
A resident of Hamtramck, Davis had witnessed his neighborhood
struggle with blight and vacancy. He saw his block bookended by
empty, trash-peppered lots and lamented the tragic pall they cast over
the community. He had advocated for a pumpkin patch, something to fill
up the empty space, but there were challenges that saw that idea
deflate. So for awhile Davis’s view during his daily commute was marred
by those empty lots. Then came the paw-paw.
Last year on June 9, Hamtown Farms was founded with 100 volunteers
changing what it was into something beautiful and necessary – their arms
bared to their shoulders from rolled sleeves; planting, prepping and
tarping the land. When they were finished vacant land had become the
home of 13 paw-paw trees, eight pear and cherry trees and 30 hazelnut
Davis started the farm along with Julie Swartz, Jeffrey Taylor and
The community – kids, adults, neighbors, everyone – is why Davis and his
cohort started the farm. It wasn’t because of paw-paws, because
admittedly Davis knew little about them at the beginning; rather it was
to band the community together. To this end Davis and company engaged as
many people in the process as they could. There was dinner with the
mayor, meetings with the city economic development manager, meetings
with the neighbors and the community. Davis says, "Instead of imposing
our desire on the community, we listened and adjusted our plans. The
master plan itself was revised 25 times due to community input." What
Davis calls "listening" was a two-year process to develop a master plan
for the farm. The farm’s leadership team worked closely with the city of
Hamtramck and other organizations with specializations in farming and
The farm currently reflects this intentioned planning. Davis says, "In
the center of the site there are raised beds for community members to
grow their own seasonal vegetables. Leftover beds are planted with
vegetables and are marked with ‘Public Picking Allowed’ signs."
The community of people interested in supporting the farm extended
beyond the immediate community and city government. There were others
who responded materially to the vision of Hamtown Farms.
Davis says, "We received a $4,000 grant from Constellation Energy as
well as a $500 donation from Ted Nelson of Wellcom. These funds were
quite helpful in the startup phase, allowing us to buy materials to
build and fill the raised beds."
Some of their other benefactors have been unexpected. "Some people have
just walked up while we’re out on the farm and handed us cash saying,
‘Keep up the good work!'" Davis says. In the summertime, ice cream is
frequently pressed unto Davis by local vendors, as thanks for the work
he is doing.
Davis is deferential when mentioning the help provided by the City of
Hamtramck. He also acknowledges with appreciation the "vast network of
support within Detroit," naming supportive people and organizations that
have helped Hamtown Farms happen: Mitch Cope/Design 99, The Greening of Detroit’s Garden Resource Program, People’s Community Services.
Hamtown Farms is not a fairy tale; it is a story that continues. When
the winter leaves us in a couple months, Davis and others will go back
to work. "We’ll head out and pick up garbage that has blown onto the
lots." In the spring, when planting season starts, the neighborhood kids
will come out and join the work, chattering excitedly. For Davis the
reward is the farm’s existence and its practical benefit to the
community; this new reality that at the end of their block sits a farm
and not a blank space.
I have never had a paw paw but I will seek them out when the season changes (if it ever does!)