By: Carin Tunney

Brenda Bogatay thought about her hometown of Pinckney, and she knew something was  missing.

It’s a charming little village in Livingston County. Historic brick buildings line downtown – a bakery, a diner, pizzeria, salon. A writer for the Livingston Post once called Pinckney the coolest town in Michigan “by far.”

But Bogatay wanted more for her community of about 2,500 people. And she saw an opportunity to grow.

“I thought maybe if we had a community garden, we could have more foot traffic downtown,” she said.

Bogatay started a Facebook page to see if the garden idea would take root. In two days, 120 community members joined. One member was Pinckney’s village president, Rebecca Foster, who had her eyes on a grassy lot on the corner of Marion and West Main.

“My focus was on the community and this vacant lot,” she said. “How can we make it attractive? It’d been for sale for a long time without success.”

Foster and Bogatay approached the Pinckney Downtown Development Authority (DDA), the lot’s owner, and asked to install a couple of garden beds. DDA members eagerly agreed.

Then someone mentioned the Consumers Energy Foundation’s “Put Your Town on the Map” grant opportunity. The program offers small towns a chance to pitch a community project.

Foster and Bogatay applied, and Pinckney received $15,000. The grassroots project bloomed into something much bigger.

“It just took off,” Foster said. “Including the (timing of) the Put your Town on the Map funding. It was just like, ‘oh we should apply for this’. It was almost serendipitous. Everything just came together.”

The idea blossomed into 18 raised garden beds, a wheelchair-accessible gravel walkway and a shed for storing tools. Consumers Energy volunteers helped build the beds and fill them with soil.

The lot is now a colorful cornucopia of bright red tomatoes, 10-foot-tall sunflowers, zucchini, wildflowers and all sorts of plants.

“It’s been successful beyond our wildest dreams,” Foster said. “The grant was huge. We had seed money from our DDA, but the Consumers Energy Foundation’s grant allowed us to think longer term about the pathways, and picnic tables, and next year we’re hoping to put a fence up to give it a finished look.”

Bogatay said the garden was just what the village needed, especially after the isolation of the pandemic.

“It helps with the feeling of community,” she said. “I was missing the community feel, especially coming out of the year of lockdown. I think it’s really helped everyone.”

The community garden project was one of three Consumers Energy Foundation grants awarded last year as part of the Put Your Town on the Map program. The program rewards small towns for creative ideas to improve their communities.

“As part of our commitment to Michigan’s hometowns, we’re proud to support ideas that enrich the lives of residents in our state,” said Carolyn Bloodworth, secretary/treasurer of the Consumers Energy Foundation. “The community garden project is a great example of how a vacant lot can be transformed into an attractive public asset.  We were pleased to support the project and excited that it will serve the Pinckney community for years to come.”

The Put Your Town on the Map grant is part of the Small Town and Rural Development Conference led by the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan.