SAGINAW - Now entering its second year of growing fresh produce in the city, Grow Saginaw is looking to start new projects.
"We need an irrigation system," said Grow Saginaw founder Padraic Ingle, looking out recently over one garden plot. Heat and lack of rainfall was causing the leaves on cornstalks to curl, and Ingle said the pumpkins were "struggling."
Ingle has been researching different irrigation systems to install at the garden and said the project will cost about $1,000.
This recent photo shows Aura Shaw, 4, of Saginaw Township helping to water the Grow Saginaw's garden on the corner of South Washington and Federal in downtown Saginaw. (AP photo)
Right now Ingle drives a pickup truck with a cistern in the back to get untreated water from Lake Huron at the Saginaw water treatment plant and bring it to the parched garden.
The organization is now branching out to build projects outside of its downtown lot.
This year, Grow Saginaw has helped build raised garden beds at the Saginaw YMCA, Handley Elementary School, Good Neighbors Mission and a planter for the Houghton-Jones Neighborhood Association.
Ingle said one of the group's next project will be to put together a catalog of projects the group is capable of setting up for residential and commercial customers who want to start a garden on their property. Each project would be listed with a suggested donation amount.
"We don't want to just rely on cash donations," Ingle said. "We like to put people to work."
Ingle said the group is also looking for donations of supplies and equipment from local businesses. In return, the businesses could advertise on the garden lot.
Ingle estimates he has spent about $5,000 of his own money on Grow Saginaw projects.
The organization is also raising money by selling shares of its produce. At $10 paid share earns 5 pounds of fresh produce.
The garden also offers work shares, where workers earn 5 pounds of produce for one hour of work.
Volunteers braved the heat and sun one recent evening to weed and water the plants.
Ty Elowski, of Saginaw, said he and his wife, Rebecca, got involved in Grow Saginaw as a family activity with their 4-year-old son, Mason.
"I wanted to introduce my boy to gardening," Elowski said. "He's done quite well."
Elowski said Mason has helped spread dirt with a shovel and water the plants with a watering can.
"I hope he gets and appreciation of how to car for plants, how to garden and the process to take something from a field to a productive environment," he said.
Another volunteer, Corey Shaw of Saginaw, said he supports Grow Saginaw because what the organization could do for the community.
"It helps people to realize that self-sufficiency is an option and a possibility," Shaw said. He added that the fresh produce can help make the community healthier.
The downtown garden has been planted with pumpkins, eggplant, squash, peppers, chard, red cabbage, potatoes, sweet potatoes, leeks, spinach and chives.
Ingle said the group grows only non-genetically modified plants and does not use any herbicides, insecticides or other chemicals.
"These are my insecticides," he said, holding up his hands and making a pinching motion with his index fingers and thumbs.
Ingle said he wants to focus on "heirloom" plants, meaning that the seeds for these plants have been preserved from past harvests and passed down to future years.
The variety of heirloom corn he has planted, for example, came from Italy.
"Ten pounds of cornmeal made from this corn can sell for $90," he said. "It's served in five-star restaurants. They use it to make polenta."
One of the types of the tomatoes the group is growing was found growing wild on the Grow Saginaw lot last year.
"We took 18 cuttings" from the wild tomatoes, Ingle said. "Nine of those survived and now we have 90 plants."
The wild tomatoes, called currant tomatoes are tiny, yellow and "sweet like candy," Ingle said.
Ingle said Grow Saginaw saves seeds after each harvest and want to be totally self-sufficient.
Ingle said the goals of Grow Saginaw are to teach self-sustainability, unite the community and reduce blight in the city.
"We can grow our own food and take care of ourselves," Ingle said. "It's just about education."
Ingle said that urban gardening creates a sense of responsibility and unity in communities.
"The gardens give people a sense of pride and ownership in the community," he said.