Saturday, November 23, 2013

Daylight in the Garden of Good and Kowalski

Hamtramck is a tiny city completely surrounded by big Detroit.  It has almost nothing in common with Motown except that they're both temporarily under the thumb of appointed, not elected, emergency managers. 

As with Detroit, Hamtramck's EM has far-reaching and unassailable dictatorial powers.  Hamtramck, like Detroit, is broke, and, according to the emergency managers in both towns, the only way to save them is to sell off all valuable assets--even those that make these towns what they are.

In Detroit, that could be (and very well might be) the venerable, world class Art Institute, but tiny Hamtramck has no such booty.  What they do have is a lovely community garden, thanks to a five-year adopt-a-lot agreement put in place by the mayor in 2011, giving the community necessary protection, along with an incentive to keep those gardens--now called Hamtown Farms--going.

Photo credit:  Hamtown Farms
  But strange as it may seem to those of us who see more value in the community garden part than in the worth of vacant lots, Cathy Square, Hamtramck's EM and resident carpetbagger (in place since way back in June), decided on her own that since the Kowalski Sausage Company next door wanted the garden lots for themselves, (and since a lawsuit restricting the sale of city-owned lots had ended) she should just go ahead and sell them.

Since Hamtown Farms had already invested over $40,000 into their gardens, based on lot prices in the area they thought an offer of $2500 for five lots would be fair.  Kowalski countered with $3000, a mere $500 more. Hamtown Farms saw the writing on the wall and thought that was the end.

When citizens got wind of the potential sale and caused a bit of a stink, mainly because those five city lots sat empty for over 30 years before they were rescued and turned into gardens, Ms. Square was miffed.  Okay, then, she said.  Not worth the hassle. I've made the decision to put them up for auction, instead.  So before anybody could ask, Isn't that, like, still selling them? the bids were opened.

After a protracted bidding war, Hamtown Farms ended up with the winning bids on three of the five lots, but at almost 10 times their original offer.   Kowalski paid $11,000 for the lot with the planted trees, a loss that saddens those who had been nurturing those trees.

But thanks to donors and an Indiegogo fund drive, it looks like Hamtown Farms will get to keep their gardens.

No thanks to Kowalski Sausage.  Whatever happened to public relations, particularly when you're a Polish sausage maker in what was once a traditionally Polish city? The Emergency Manager decreed that all vacant lots in Hamtramck must be sold, so surely there were others nearby that would have suited them just as well.

Considering how much more those lots ended up selling for (far more per lot than any other in the city), you have to wonder what happened there?  Kowalski could have bought two or three lots for what they paid for that single treed lot in the Gardens.  Why were they so stuck on that one?  And what are they going to do with it?
Even more puzzling, why were those particular lots targeted by the EM, when initially they weren't worth that much money and have become such a happy part of the community?  There's no figuring out those bottom-liners.  That's because they're all about the bottom line.  The wants and needs of the people will always take a back seat until they've finished them.  And when they're finished with them they'll be gone.

I live for the day when the lawsuits against Emergency Managers in Michigan are settled and won.  Last November, as everyone but Gov. Snyder seems to remember, the people of Michigan voted down the Governor's plan for Emergency Managers, but his administration sidestepped the will of the people and installed them, anyway.

Hamtramck's EM won't have the kind of clout that Detroit's EM, Kevyn Orr has, but going after a successful community garden where empty lots once stood and making them pay exorbitant rates in order to keep it, tells me all I need to know about where Cathy Square is coming from--and where she's headed.

If I lived in Hamtramck, I wouldn't take my eyes off of her for even a second.

(Big H/T to Eclectablog for bringing this story to light.  For a  PBS video clip about Hamtown Farms, go here.  If you would like to donate to Hamtown Farms, go here.)


  1. There was a time in the not-so-distant past that Hamtramck was a thriving town. Chrysler was there and that was where my Dad worked for 48 years and where we learned Polish jokes and talks about Polish Kielbasa. This Cathy Square is a predator, she wanted that farm just because. She had the power and she was going to wield it and had to leave it. Perhaps she learned something in the process. What is going on in Michigan is just so un-constitutional that I have to ask why this has not been brought up to the Supreme Court of the United States. You can't just enact a Law and define it in your own terms without review from higher courts especially when a Governor is violating even his own electorate's wishes. He and Scott Walker have been an efferent to the Constitution of theUnited States.

  2. That's the mystery, Nedra. Why isn't something being done about it? As I understand it, there are many lawsuits pending, with a number of groups trying to stop this madness. I don't know why it hasn't come before the Supremes, but I'm not so sure they would do what's right, either.

  3. I don't know what the update is on this community garden since 2013, but I do hope these people in this community get to keep their garden going. I've seen nothing but amazing effects whenever a new community garden springs up in an area. Even if it's expensive at first, because you need to hire professional garden designers like to install the garden, it's always worth it in the end, as locals get to plant the vegetables they need and meet each other in peaceful environment to socialize. All the best to every community garden out there!

  4. Thanks for sharing this perspective on the impact of emergency management on local communities. The mention of Hamtown Farms and the efforts to preserve the community garden highlights the resilience and creativity of residents in the face of financial adversity. Tree Surgeon Felixstowe

  5. Thanks for sharing this eye-opening story about Hamtown Farms. It's unfortunate to witness the clash between community interests and the decisions of emergency managers. Kudos to the resilience of Hamtown Farms and their supporters. TREE SURGEON ATTLEBOROUGH


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