When I knew I was settling down in Michigan for good I began the hunt for a real job and homestead. My dream job was City Year. I made it past the application process and found myself attempting to dress decent and sweating in a chair despite subzero air conditioning for an interview. When they asked me about the commitments I had made in my life I felt a lump in my throat. I don’t remember what I stammered, but I remember walking briskly out of 1 Ford Place in tears, thinking about dropping out of high school in spite of good grades and high test scores, the full university rides I never responded to, the string of jobs I held down half-ass over the years, the promise I showed as a swimmer, the always moving around, and the marriage I had just left. Surprisingly I got the job, though I didn’t hold it down very long, but that is a story for another time.
I moved to North Corktown and started working at the Majestic. It was there amongst the fields and Victorians that I found my first opportunity to keep a commitment. The Spirit Farm at Spirit of Hope church had been my first introduction to this neighborhood a year prior when I volunteered alongside Kate on an east-side project that remains as Faith Farm to this day. I learned that the Spirit Farm was receiving chickens and would need help caring for them. The day they arrived I found myself there alongside Kate and M, spreading hay and tightening screws on the coop. They were just teenagers, not quite chicks but tiny and endearing, colorful and energetic. I became responsible for their care twice a week.
Visiting the farm was always a welcome reprieve from the daily grind. I would walk alone, in sunshine or rain, in summer and in winter when the falling snow would turn my dreadlocks into icicles. My morning shift encouraged me to rise with the sun, making the short trek to the farm. I would come inside and help myself to a cup of coffee. A few AA members were already gathering in the basement, setting up tables and putting out snacks. Norm was always there to greet me warmly. I would got outside with my coffee and have a cigarette as the rest of the group filed in. I shared my bench with so many beautiful people. They told me about their lives and grandkids, they talked about the sock hop at their church, they blared Motown hits through the windows of their perfectly waxed cruisers while dancing with each other in the parking lot. Sometimes, they would talk about why they were there, about the poverty, drug addictions, and systematic oppressions that brought all of them together. If interest demanded I would lead a field trip to the chickens, and everyone would stand outside the fenced in area hooting and hollering with glee and surprise as I fed and watered the flock, occasionally kicking an aggressive rooster in the face.
My job is quite simple. I enter the coop (sometimes more messy after heavy storms) and throw out feed to send the flock out of my way. I assess the amount of snacks, leafy greens and breads, and feed accordingly. Once every few years there is an aggressive rooster around, I may have to put him in his place. Rooster Karate is really a must see feat. I refill their water from the rain barrel or the hose if it has been dry. If the roosts are empty, I add some hay that I find in the greenhouse. I gather the eggs and clean them in the basement if the church is open, if it is not I may gather the eggs and place them in the greenhouse. Sometimes there are no eggs, but it all depends. On average each chicken will lay an egg a day under the right conditions.
In the summer I munch on garlic shoots and cherry tomatoes. In the winter the snow covers everything and lets the ground rest. I come in for some pie or cake, a cup of hot coffee. I’ve come to know some of the greatest heroes here. A woman who’s skin is creased with the dirt of the earth, who farms, writes, hugs, and works with genuine truth and caring, with honesty and passion. A pastor who keeps an eloquent blog and smiles proudly at Pride Fest every year, who always has the time to meet a 20 person gaggle of idealists that feel like barging in his office. A grounds keeper with tight braids who looks much younger than his years but still has a wrinkle here and there to account for his tales, who’s voice booms with love and cooks you up a snack.
The Spirit of Hope is an architectural masterpiece, and a progressive worship and community center. Spirit Farm occupies an adjacent lot and is used to supplement the food pantry. In my time as a volunteer I have enjoyed many opportunities. Getting acquainted with its history, watching the fireworks from the bell tower, partaking in the ringing of the bell during open mics, interacting with campers from many events including the Social Forum, Permaculture workshops, the Allied Media Conference and Crownival, hearing local artists read and play music in a beautiful cathedral, attending community health fairs, cooking for Food Not Bombs, creating seed bombs, dunch and linner, farmers markets and Soup, intimate bonfires; some of my best shoes came from their clothing donations, as well as the winter coat I have sported for the past two years. And though Kate became my hero before I first volunteered there, being there reinforced her impact on me and inspired me to go on as an organizer and activist. In addition I met a whole new slew of heroes to inspire me in my days ways.
Today I only volunteer one shift a week, feeding the chickens on Saturday evening. I enjoy walking through the farm and coming upon the flock. They all amble over to me, excited that I am there to throw some seeds and refresh the water. In addition to the chickens there is now a black potbelly pig, AJ. He sleeps sometimes in the bottom of the chicken coop, hides under hay, mostly resists my pets and has the cutest little tusks. Watching him wake up from a nap or eat his dinner is enough to melt away my every worldly concern. Afterwards I stop to shoot the shit with the neighbors over a beer, embracing these relationships that have morphed into family after all these years.
When I first started volunteering for chicken shifts it was a matter of assisting people that were important to me and proving to the world, and myself, that I could commit to something. Now, five years later, my weekly pilgrimages to the farm are less a reminder of my ability to commit and more an escape into the fantasy land of garden and nature, of community and home.
Its spring! Feeling motivated to find a place to plug in? Leave a comment about what kind of work you would like to get involved with in the Detroit area (social justice, farms, construction and improvement, kids, art, ect.) and I’ll point you towards my favorite organizations.