Carol Trowell, Imani Foster and Djenaba Ali, three of the six founders of the North End co-op Black Bottom Garden Center. Credit: Courtney Wise Randolph
At Black Bottom Garden Center, a co-op founded and led by six Black women in Detroit’s North End, plants that were loved and grown in the founders’ very own gardens can become your own. The center is now open in Hoop House #2 on Oakland Avenue Farm.
“I’ve been growing plants all of my life,” said Carol Trowell, one of the co-op’s founders. “We have plenty of aloe vera that came from babies grown by myself and Jerry [Hebron, another co-founder]. I’ve also got a wandering man plant that I propagated, and people can buy those.”
Besides aloe vera and wandering man, visitors to the center can expect to find tomatoes, pole beans, various herbs, greens, daylilies, sedum, curly grass, zebra grass and more. There are also a few tools to aid in enjoying one’s garden, like citronella candles, bubbles and outdoor activities for kids.
In some ways, the garden center itself is the propagation of existing friendship and community. In addition to being one of Black Bottom Garden Center’s co-founders, Jerry Hebron is executive director of Oakland Avenue Farm and North End Christian CDC. She and Trowell have been friends for nearly 30 years and in one of their conversations, she invited Trowell to attend North End Christian meetings in which residents of the neighborhood would brainstorm and select what businesses they wanted to see in their community. The garden center, dreamt of just last fall, is one of those community-chosen ideas.
Its additional co-founders, Laura Allen, Imani Foster, Djenaba Ali and Marya Ferguson are all also friends or women who have been actively involved in the North End or urban farming community for some time, either as patrons who can’t get enough of the jam produced by Oakland Avenue Farm or as workers and volunteers at the farm or Keep Growing Detroit. Since completing the program in April, the six women are among the first graduates of the Detroit Community Wealth Fund’s North End Co-op Academy and Incubator, a 16-week program created in partnership with North End Christian CDC and the Detroit Justice Center. They aim to begin offering co-op memberships to the public within the next year.
The women’s attraction to gardening was natural because, as Trowell puts it, “We all like flowers and growing things.” She continued, “I don’t know how better to explain it to you, but the dirt—the feel of the dirt—and then seeing something that you planted as a seed grow is amazing. And the herbs—to cook with them, they taste a whole lot different than the herbs that you buy at the store.”
The garden center uses non-GMO seed and non-chemically treated soils on its plants and vegetables so that everyone can feel comfortable consuming the produce grown there. In addition, Trowell says that the business is as much about connecting people to beautiful and healthy plants and food as it is to being part of economic growth led by Black people in and from Detroit.
“Our name is Black Bottom Garden Center in reference to the fertile black soil that so easily grew things [in the former Black Bottom community], but also in reference to the thriving Black businesses that existed there before the freeway was built through it and took them away,” she said.
As Black Bottom Garden Center grows in the North End, so soon will two other co-ops. Later this summer, five Detroiters will open STUFFED North End Cafe, a farm-to-table cafe specializing in “anything stuffed” like stuffed peppers and po’ boys sandwiches. They’ll launch from the Mama Akua Community House while working to acquire a food truck to house in the North End. Everything Beautiful Beauty Supply, a unisex store co-founded by three Detroiters, will feature natural hair care workshops and local, Black-owned beauty brands and products. During its pilot phase this year, the co-founders will host pop-ups. Both businesses and their founders are also graduates of the North End Co-op Academy and Incubator.
One of the goals of the garden center’s founders is to proliferate the goodness and love they’ve cultivated at the center everywhere a plant from their business grows. “We don’t want you to just buy a plant from us and then we don’t see you anymore,” said Trowell. “We want you to come back or stay connected with us by sharing pictures of that first tomato you pull off of the vine.” And if your thumb is more teal than green, people should feel comfortable calling the center to ask for help throughout their gardening journeys.
Trowell said, “We want people to feel ‘Black Bottom happy.’ That means they have a great experience; they like being with us and can count on good customer service.”
For now, Black Bottom Garden Center is open on Fridays from 3-7 p.m., Saturdays from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. -3 p.m. You can find it at 9227 Goodwin St., Detroit.