DETROIT — Hundreds of Compuware Corp. workers, city officials, and the just plain curious attended Wednesday’s grand opening of Lafayette Greens, the tech giant’s experiment in urban farming in the heart of downtown Detroit.

Surrounded by decorative fencing, the three-quarter-acre garden features raised beds full of vegetables — collards, lettuce, tomatoes, beans, squash, cucumbers, broccoli, cabbage, peppers. Large pots hold perennial herbs, and the garden is ringed by fruit trees, including peaches and heirloom apples.

The garden features pathways of recycled concrete, bioswale plants for rainwater retention and whimsically off-kilter sheds that incorporate re-used materials such as pallet wood and salvaged doors. Its main pathway is lined with fragrant lavender plants.

Compuware CEO Peter Karmanos Jr. is a master gardener. He told the crowd he earned the designation “at a Michigan State University extension class a long time ago.” And he said gardening has been a useful skill over his years as the boss of a big tech company.

Karmanos recalled losing a major contract and being “crushed, heartbroken” — and his reaction was to “go home and plant things.” He said it didn’t take long for him to realize that the peace and serenity of gardening had completely taken away the stress and anxiety of the loss of that deal, making it “a very valuable way to spend time.”

And the public will have the chance to participate in tending the garden. Volunteer walk-in hours to help out in the garden are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Tuesday from 9 to 10 a.m. and Thursday from 4 to 5 p.m. The garden will be open to the public for viewing Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The garden is located in a roughly triangular lot bordered by Michigan Avenue, Shelby Street and Lafayette Boulevard.

Karmanos said he was glad the city approved the garden and didn’t simply let the land it’s on lie barren until someone wanted to build a new building on it. He pointed out that the lot upon which Compuware’s headquarters now stands was once home to the Kern department store and was once “considered the most valuable location in the country.” Yet it sat vacant for more than 30 years before Compuware moved in.

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Detroit Mayor Dave Bing offers his remarks at the dedication of Compuware Corp.'s Lafayette Greens urban garden

Mayor Dave Bing said one thing Detroit is indeed rich in is vacant land suitable for urban farming — and that he’s going to encourage more urban farming to remove Detroit’s frequently cited status as a “food desert.”

At the event, waiters circulated in the crowd with hors d’oeuvres supplied by the garden itself — homemade salsa on cucumber slices, for instance. But going forward, produce from the garden will go to Gleaners, the Detroit-based food bank for people suffering economic distress.

Gwen Meyer, Lafayette Greens garden manager and certified master gardener, said she’s hoping the garden provides the public with education — both about the importance of local food sources, and about the importance of healthy vegetable- and fruit-based eating, given the nation’s obesity epidemic.

To listen to an audio podcast interview with Meyer about the urban farm, visit this link.


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