We first visited Detroit in 2010. It was still relatively quiet here, the outside dialog about the city still dominated by discussions of crime, poverty, hopelessness, ruin porn. But where others saw burned out buildings, a diminished population, and emptiness, we saw the glimmer of opportunity. Low overhead. The freedom to create. The community to support it.
Over the course of two years of repeated visits, we fell in love with Detroit, leading to the rather hasty decision, while sitting around a campfire in Southwest Detroit with friends on a July evening, to uproot and relocate here. We returned two weeks later with all of our worldly possessions in a small box truck as new Detroiters.
Although our journey since then has been a surprising, exhausting, and often times terrifying one, full of decisions in the moment as our best laid plans fell apart, we survived and grew, and outgrew. With more energy and determination than funds, where we once intended to buy and rehabilitate a home with friends, we ended up on our own, with no safety net and quickly evaporating funds. What was once intended to be a home created with and occupied by friends became a guest house, bustling with visitors to the city from all over the world, so that we could afford to keep renovating what started as a messy shell of a home, keep the lights on, keep working on making a place for ourselves. We became ambassadors for this too often misunderstood and written-off city that we had fallen in love with. What started as empty, unused lots next door started to become a substantial enough garden to provide us and our neighbors with a quantity and quality of produce that we couldn't have afforded to buy, and an excuse for us to play in the dirt outside, getting to know our neighborhood better with each conversation that we had with a former stranger about vertical gardening or pest control or what exactly we were doing here to begin with. What started as an agreement to repair some bicycles has become a fleet of 15 bikes that allow visitors to see Detroit in a new way, on two wheels instead of through car windows. We became an enterprise of diverse but integrated endeavors and proudly named our home The Detroit Homestead: a workshop, a farm, a studio, and an exercise in self sufficiency and self reliance in what often feels like a new kind of American frontier.
We continue to re-imagine the possibilities that life offers us as Detroit becomes a new city, and as we continue to grow into new people. Moving beyond a tumultuous beginning, several years in, we found ourselves with slightly more time and a little bit of wiggle room to flex our creative muscles, while continuing to renovate, repair, cultivate, host travelers that became new friends, and get to know more of our neighborhood and the city. Creating art and selling hand made goods became one more of our many projects, but one that was a long time coming, even if we didn't know it until long down the road.
After a little over five years after moving to Detroit and beginning The Detroit Homestead project, after gallons of blood, sweat, tears, whiskey, mulberry syrup, and honey, we came to the difficult conclusion that our aspirations were outgrowing The Homestead, and that The Homestead was outgrowing us. Resources and time still limited - as, it turns out, they always will be in this life - we had to choose between our artistic and creative trajectories and remaining the stewards of the garden, the ambassadors of an evolving West Euclid Street, and innkeepers of The Homestead, and while it was bittersweet to do so, we ultimately concluded that the former was the only honest choice that we could make for ourselves, as we passed the torch of those latter endeavors to a new owner and struck out again, with all of our worldly belongings in and on top of a little car and trailer towed behind, to discover what new frontiers lay ahead of us.
There are still miles to go before we're settled enough to have established new routines, to be past the red tape of reestablishing a new life in a new place, to be able to share pictures of the new garden - but don't worry, there is a new garden, and there's a lot more creative work being done and yet to do, and we can't wait to share it as soon as we're ready. Thank you for your patience and support...we can't wait to see where we go from here!
<3, Alyssa and Matt
@akillart // @frontierindustry on Instagram