2017-02-02 / Life in Leelanau

Super Soups to benefit fast-growing Buckets of Rain

By Patti Brandt Burgess
Of The Enterprise staff


THESE YOUNGSTERS are learning to grow food at an early age at one of several urban gardens in Detroit sponsored by the Buckets of Rain organization founded in 2006 in Empire. THESE YOUNGSTERS are learning to grow food at an early age at one of several urban gardens in Detroit sponsored by the Buckets of Rain organization founded in 2006 in Empire. There’s nothing better than feeding hungry people, unless it’s providing hungry people with the space and the skills to grow the food themselves.

That’s the whole idea behind Buckets of Rain, the non-profit organization that has converted abandoned and blighted lots in Detroit and Highland Park into about 60,000 square feet of urban gardens.

The non-profit organization will be the recipient of funds raised by the Super Soups event being held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at The Homestead in Glen Arbor.

Local chefs are cooking up their favorite soups that guests can sample and vote on. Admission, which includes unlimited soup sampling, is $10 for adults and $5 for seniors and children under 12.


RAISED BED gardens placed on abandoned and blighted lots in Detroit and Highland Park by the Empire-based Buckets of Rain organization produced more than 80,000 servings of fresh vegetables last year. RAISED BED gardens placed on abandoned and blighted lots in Detroit and Highland Park by the Empire-based Buckets of Rain organization produced more than 80,000 servings of fresh vegetables last year. “It’s just a super fun thing to do on a winter’s day,” said Chris Skellenger, the founder of Buckets of Rain.

Those green Buckets of Rain oases in Detroit last year produced more than 80,000 servings of locally grown vegetables, Skellenger said.

This year the group hopes to purchase another 30 abandoned lots totaling about an acre of land that will more than double vegetable output to about 200,000 servings this year, Skellenger said.

And by 2020 the group aims to produce a million servings of fresh vegetables per season.

Produce from the gardens is harvested daily during the growing months, mostly by volunteers, who put in about 4,000 hours last year. The food is taken to soup kitchens and homeless shelters of the Detroit Rescue Mission, Skellenger said.

And at least one day a week, bags of fresh veggies are available for direct pick-up by neighborhood residents, he said.

The beds themselves are made from recycled wooden pallets, as well as auto parts bins donated by General Motors and Ford.

Another garden in Leelanau County that measures about 10,000 square feet grows food that is donated to local food pantries, with whatever is left transported to Detroit by Skellenger, who makes the weekly trip about nine months out of the year.

Skellenger and his wife Susan founded Buckets of Rain in 2006 after their nursery and landscaping business was sidelined by an injury.

“We decided to take what we had learned in ornamental horticulture and turn it into survival horticulture,” he said.

The goal was to grow food where it was not thought possible, a feat that provides nourishing vegetables to the city’s poorest people. That the gardens also transform ugly, abandoned and overgrown lots into green spaces is one of the program’s many benefits.

In the protracted aftermath of the exodus of the auto industry, Detroit has 52,947 abandoned homes within its city limits, according to a RealtyTrac report released about a year ago.

It’s a number that is growing all the time.

“People were stuck behind,” Skellenger said. “Those who could follow the jobs did ... We have to kind of redefine what the world does when cities shrink.”

Infrastructure crumbles, houses are abandoned and crime takes over, he said.

“Buckets of rain is actually doing something with the land,” Skellenger said.

Because the gardens are in raised beds, they can be picked up and moved — something that once had to be done, he said.

In a non-gardening-related project, Buckets of Rain and the Empire Area Community Center have developed a local emergency fund, the Empire Area Community Fund, which gives anonymous financial aid to local residents who have fallen on hard times.

Money is raised through donations at concerts put on once a month by local musicians, with more than $56,000 raised since its inception in 2012.

In the past Buckets of Rain has helped install drip irrigation technology in villages, hospitals and schools in Lesotho, a kingdom in South Africa. The organization has also helped people in Kenya, Honduras and Guatemala City.

These days the organization is 95 percent focused in Detroit, he said.

Skellenger said it’s no surprise that The Homestead chose Buckets of Rain as the recipient of the money being raised by the Super Soups event, as the Skellengers worked there on and off for about 25 years managing the grounds.

Skellenger, a popular musician, is also an entertainment staple at the resort. He and others representing Buckets of Rain will be wandering around during the event to answer questions about the organization.

Recipes from Thyme & Traditions, St. Mary Parish/School cookbook.

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