Left: Youth community gardeners care for more than 1,400 plants at the Cadillac Urban Gardens in Southwest Detroit. General Motors has repurposed 250 shipping crates from its Orion Assembly plant to create the raised garden beds shown. (Photo by John F. Martin for General Motors; click to expand)

Sometimes opportunity and reinvention can sprout up from the most unlikely of places—like an abandoned parking lot in Detroit.

Along with Ideal, General Motors recently helped open the local community project, Cadillac Urban Gardens. The urban renewal project also serves as a compelling sustainable business practice, as 250 shipping crates from its Orion Assembly Plant – home of the Buick Verano and Chevrolet Sonic – were repurposed as the garden’s raised beds.

“Instead of recycling this material, we found a direct reuse, which saves energy and resources,” said John Bradburn, GM’s manager of waste-reduction efforts. “We seek opportunities for projects in our backyard that reduce environmental impact and strengthen communities.”

General Motors, GM, Detroit Dirt, John Bradburn, Orion Assembly Plant, Cadillac Urban Gardens, urban gardens

Jason Garcia, 8, shows off his picked pepper at the Cadillac Urban Gardens in Southwest Detroit. (Photo by Martin)

As urban farming surges in Detroit, local kids and families are already benefitting from the fresh, nutritious food sourced close to home, and the garden is quickly becoming a community rallying point. The garden is tended daily by local volunteers, and the peppers, onions and tomatoes are free for the picking.

More importantly, the garden’s brain trust has a plan if the plants are picked bare:

“Then we’ll plant new ones,” said 18 year-old Christopher Potts in an interview with mLive.com.

This project is a result of collaboration with Ideal Group and composting company Detroit Dirt. The soil, supplied by Detroit Dirt, is sourced from local partners, including Detroit Zoo animal manure, coffee grounds from Corktown’s Astro Café, and composted food scraps from the Marriott Hotel in GM’s world headquarters and GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant, home of the Chevy Volt.

General Motors, GM, Detroit Dirt, John Bradburn, Orion Assembly Plant, Cadillac Urban Gardens, urban gardens

John Bradburn

“Our mission is to create a space that promotes the health and security of our community,” said Frank Venegas, Ideal Group chairman. “Cadillac Urban Gardens is producing vegetables, community health and growth.  This vision came true with fast action on the part of our collaborative partners.  In four short months, we are well on our way to linking sustainability with producing community growth.”

Several organizations helped make the project a reality. Detroit Dirt provided urban planning expertise, and Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision created the urban environmental plan; Rush Trucking delivered the GM-donated crates for volunteers from Ideal Group, Congress of Communities, Better Day Ministries and Southwest Detroit residents to begin planting.

This garden is an example of General Motors striving to identify creative recycling and reuse options for its manufacturing byproducts and participation in this project was a natural fit. It recently added its 100th landfill-free facility — a milestone in the company’s ongoing waste-reduction efforts. No other automaker has as many facilities contributing zero waste to landfill.

“Regardless of where you are at in urban environments, this is a possibility,” said Bradburn.

General Motors, GM, Detroit Dirt, John Bradburn, Orion Assembly Plant, Cadillac Urban Gardens, urban gardens

Detroit Dirt founder Pashon Murray (left) and GM's John Bradburn display a fresh tray of the garden’s bounty.

About The Author

John Bradburn

John Bradburn is manager of waste-reduction efforts at General Motors. He leads the company’s landfill-free initiative, resulting in 100 GM operations around the world that reuse, recycle, and convert to energy all waste from daily operations.