GM Develops Green Thumb in Urban Gardening


DETROIT — General Motors is turning 100 steel crates used for shipping engines to Orion Assembly into raised urban garden in vacant parking lots throughout Detroit, building on an earlier donation of 250 crates that enabled Cadillac Urban Gardens to bloom in Southwest Detroit.

Community residents pick the free produce, while being encouraged to contribute to ongoing watering and maintenance. Together with volunteers, they have nearly doubled the plantings over the last year, yielding 2,400 vegetable and herb plants this summer.  Many partners make the effort a success, such as the garden’s host, auto supplier Ideal Group, the nonprofit Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision, and numerous schools and youth groups. 

“We enjoy connecting with people making a difference through sustainable means,” said John Bradburn, GM waste-reduction manager. “These urban garden initiatives are proof that many items can have a higher purpose after their original use, whether it’s transforming a once-vacant parking lot or the creative reuse of manufacturing packaging.”

GM also contributes to Detroit Dirt’s compost recipe with cafeteria food scraps from Hamtramck Assembly, which also supplies used pallets that hold piles of the enriched soil at the gardens.

The garden’s success has led to 460 crate donations to Buckets of Rain, a nonprofit urban farming initiative supporting soup kitchens like the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries and Cass Community Social Services. The program has transformed once-desolate urban spaces into 1.25 acres of plantings housed in recycled pallets and shipping crates. The harvest will provide food for thousands of underprivileged community members.

Green Garage LLC also sought out GM’s expertise when building its 1,000 square-foot rooftop urban garden, RoofTop Farm Detroit LLC. In a farm-to-table approach, it provides a weekly delivery of salad greens, small vegetables and edible flowers and herbs to Motor City Brewing Works restaurant located across the street. GM’s contribution of 90 strong plastic corrugated containers house the plants while 60 foam sheets from its Flint warehouse protect the building’s roof membrane under the planters.

“Projects like this show how engaged and committed the business community is to Detroit’s transformation and to improving the quality of life of its residents,” said Cindy Pasky, chair of the Downtown Detroit Partnership and president and CEO of Strategic Staffing Solutions. “This project, which brings fresh food to the tables of many under privileged families, is also showing our young people how to take responsibility and helping beautify some of our city’s more challenging urban spaces.”

Gardening efforts extend beyond food sources. GM repurposed and donated 85 scrap Chevrolet Volt battery covers from its Brownstown, Mich., battery lab as flower planters to the nonprofit Mary McLeod Bethune Association committed to helping at-risk youth. The association is customizing the covers, using them to beautify Detroit neighborhoods and bus stops.

GM is committed to finding alternative uses for its byproducts. It recycles 90 percent of its worldwide manufacturing waste and has 106 landfill-free facilities.