Newsletter – July 2014

Newsletter – July 2014



Phoenix from the Ashes


Notes from the Midwest Film & Farms Tour:

One Veteran’s Dream of Restoring his Home Town

The city of Flint, Michigan has been its own kind of war zone.  Home of General Motors, when the automotive empire experienced economic freefall, so did the city and its residents.  Thousands of people left as employment disappeared and homes and shops were boarded up, burned or demolished.


Air Force veteran, Erich Spielmaker had left Flint years ago, never to return … or so he believed.  After a tour in Iraq, serving on a flight deck, he moved on to his education at the Maharishi University of Management (MUM) in Fairfield, Iowa.


At MUM, he looked for a field of study that he thought had relevance in our ever-changing world and found it in their School of Sustainability, where he is still a student.  Erich dove into energy efficiency, community housing and permaculture design. On a field trip to Detroit, the students watched a documentary, “Urban Roots,” about how area residents were reclaiming abandoned lots and growing food for themselves and their neighbors. He reasoned that Flint was similar in opportunity and challenges, much like Detroit’s little brother.

He realized that Flint could do the same thing to revitalize itself and Flint was ready to deal.  Houses and buildings could be bought for pennies on the dollar. Many had been torched by arsonists and bulldozed off the land, leaving only sparsely populated neighborhoods. 
A Green Innovation Zone, just blocks from city center, was identified where people were encouraged to develop food production on empty lots. The Land Bank was buying up blocks and reallocating to folks who were ready to get to work rebuilding the neighborhood.



Erich (E.J.) made a call to his father (Erich Sr.) and enticed him out of retirement from Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  He also convinced his school chum and soil scientist student, Sam, to join the project.  They bought the old bank building on the corner of Broadway and Lewis and got to work.  Flintopia was born.



“Ground Operations” landed at Flintopia for the last of six veteran farms on our Midwest Tour a mere 9 months after its birth.  I could see enough from the rooms that had not yet been tackled to understand what a daunting task they had taken on.  Years of refuse, grime and abuse were being removed while donations of needed materials and volunteer hours from the neighborhood are transforming this huge white elephant of a building into a community center for sustainability.

What had formerly been the banking area for the tellers and customers had been cleared out to provide the main community room where we had our screening. It’s available to groups who need a meeting space and currently hosts A.A., N.A., yoga and art happenings. Erich Sr. gave up his “bedroom” for me … and I slept soundly in the bank vault!  A small kitchen area has been constructed.  The basement has been gutted and with floor drains is standing by for funding to start aquaponics. The whole building has been painted inside and out and secondhand rugs are thrown about to cover the worst of the flooring. Upstairs, old office spaces are being repurposed as bedrooms and living quarters. Funky for now and you have to squint to see what’s coming, but it’s a beginning.

The crown jewel, however, is the garden across the street. Corn, green beans, strawberries, tomatoes, salad greens and a variety of melons and squash are thriving in neat sections, fenced to keep out the neighborhood dogs and the woodchuck I saw scurrying into the bushes, and delineated by 2’ walking trails of wood chips.  A recent soils test (which they feared would not be favorable due to Flint’s notoriously contaminated soils) surprised everyone by a rating of above normal to optimal.  Sam’s soon-to-start compost lab will only increase that rating and the soil’s fertility. The garden will grow to several blocks as they build steam.

The screening event was quite a success. The event was free and a potluck of salads and casseroles hit the table. I made my usual non-GMO popcorn (thank you Eden Foods) buttered with rosemary-infused salt and the donated Reed’s Ginger Brew to wash it down.

Community partners like the Land Bank, Flint Seed Democracy, Edible Flint (a garden skills program, not the magazine), Volunteers of America, 4-H, the Time Bank and the University of Michigan shared their pieces of the puzzle for strengthening local food security.  And Flint Talk Radio streamed the event live.

As the summer comes to a close, E.J. will go back to MUM, calling home between classes and on weekends to help orchestrate from a state away, while Erich Sr. continues to rehab the building.  Sam has decided that he’s learned what he needed at MUM and is going to put that knowledge to work developing the compost lab to further the fertility of the farm.  Onward….



Ground Operations is available for pre-sales on iTunes!  Xbox, Playstation, Vudu and Google Play will follow soon. Amazon within the month.

If you’re one of our new friends who’ve attended a screening, we sure could use a brief review or comments about the film on the iTunes site — it helps get us on the radar online.

If you have seen the film, please support Ground Operations by taking a moment to write a review on iTunes. It will help to increase visibility for the film and reach more people and communities.

Click Here to Write a Review on iTunes

Ground Operations: Battlefields to Farmfields is a documentary film and social action campaign that champions combat veterans who are transitioning into careers in sustainable agriculture. Our mission is to connect them with programs, training and resources, so that they can create healthy new lives for themselves and delicious food security for us all.
America needs a million new farmers. Veterans want the job!





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