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Mark Covington: Founder of the Georgia Street Collective

While out of a job, the native Detroiter decided to clean up lots and buildings on Georgia Street, which has blossomed into a community garden, and more

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As a child, Mark Covington enjoyed planting flowers and vegetables. He recalls planting a garden in his grandmother's backyard. But while he found pleasure in gardening then, he says he was never gung ho.

"It was just plant it and watch it grow," says Covington, 42.

But now, it's a big part of his life. He created Georgia Street Community Collective, a neighborhood gathering space that includes a garden, farm, community center and library—and hosts events, too.

When he lost his job in December 2007, he moved from Taylor to Detroit's Georgia Street to live with his mom and grandma. At the time, the street was snowy, but when the layers melted in early 2008, it unveiled problems. During a walk down the street, Covington saw a flooding intersection caused by a cake of garbage clogging the sewer. He took stock of the vacant lots on the block.

"I said when it warmed up, I was going to come out," he recalls, with a goal of cleaning up and reviving the lots at the corner of Vinton and Georgia streets.

But wouldn't the lots get trashed again? "I figured if I grew some food, that people wouldn't want to dump garbage on the food," Covington says. He went through the Garden Resource Program at Keep Growing Detroit, where he learned all about the skill. He's now the east regional leader for the group and a board member, too.

When he got to work on the space, neighbors noticed. A resident down the street sent her kids to help Covington, and those kids brought others to pitch in. With some elbow grease and help from a friend, his nephew and mom, the once-desolate lots were transformed into what is today GSCC.

On GSCC's lots, Covington created a garden, an orchard and an animal farm. Open to the community, the garden provides fresh food, part of Covington's goal to spread the word about health, nutrition and growing crops.

Over time, GSCC has expanded. Covington says he wanted there to be more to do year-round for the community—not just during growing season. A few months after the start of the garden in 2008, Covington noticed two vacant buildings across from the lots he revived. When the storefront space and house were on their way to probate, Covington saw an opportunity. The structures have been transformed into a community center and library with a computer lab.

Today, GSCC has volunteer groups coming out to lend a hand, Covington notes, with Wayne State University being one of the biggest supporters.

"The vision just kind of developed over the last six years. It's like, daily, something else is added that I want to do. Our overall goal is to help revitalize our neighborhood," Covington explains, adding, "Hopefully we'll be able to take ownership of the neighborhood again."

Covington's efforts and GSCC have "definitely brought us closer," he says of the community. "It's like they know, 'We're not by ourselves anymore.'"

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