Global Exchange is a membership-based international human rights organization dedicated to promoting social, economic, and environmentsl justice around the world.

This is Part 4 in a 4-Part “Open World” series, a Global Exchange exclusive highlighting individuals (chosen by Global Exchange staff members) who are showcasing the possibility for a different world.

Kim Johnson has her hands full of dirt.  She’s patting down a seedling, carefully preparing it to grow.  Around her are signs of a thriving urban garden: neat rows of planting boxes made from reclaimed materials, sturdy plants splaying into the sun.  The garden is a green poultice for the city, a vital part of the plan for change.

For Kim, being a part of the revitalization effort in Highland Park is doubly rewarding.  When she was homeless, addicted to drugs, she used to sleep in the abandoned buildings of this neighborhood just outside Detroit.  That was a rough time, she shares, during which she not only let herself down, but she lost touch with her daughter and most of her family.

In her most trying times, she never would have guessed that gardens were in her future, and that they would make a big difference in her life.  Who would?

Kim is learning about gardens and a lot more through Global Exchange’s Green Economy Leadership Training Program.  Since getting clean and starting with the program a few years ago, Kim has taken a different viewpoint on her neighborhood, on the city, on herself.

At the heart of transformation is a crucial restructuring of the way we relate to one other.

Take food, for instance.  Most food travels over a thousand miles before it gets to your plate.  The process pollutes the planet and disempowers the growers.  That’s why urban gardening is so important.  It puts people in control of their own dietary needs, and reconnects them to the planet.  Community gardens gather together neighbors and get them working together, talking to one another instead of zoning out.  Oh yeah, and food you grow in your backyard travels significantly less than a thousand miles before it gets to your plate.

But food is just part of what’s happening in Highland Park.  Global Exchange is linking folks together into a micro-grid of locally controlled electricity, building composting bins, salvaging materials for rebuilding, and promoting renewable energy.

Green Economy Leadership Training folks hard at work

This time around, big corporations aren’t calling the shots. This time around, people are taking control.  The result, the very real change happening all over Detroit, is a green, local economy, one that’s better for the planet and its inhabitants.  And it’s being built from the bottom up.

By people like Kim.  She knows you can’t fix big problems with small ideas.  It just doesn’t work.  Changing the economic structure of a city, of a country, is no small order.  It’s a pretty big idea, and Kim is glad to take part.  She’s spreading the word to anyone who will listen.  Not only that, but she’s mentoring one of her neighbors,  reconnecting with her daughter, and learning yoga.  It’s an ongoing process, and the city is a long way from perfect.  But it’s getting there, one garden at a time.

Got a story about making a more Open World?  I’d love to hear it.  Send them to  We’ll post our favorites online for everyone to see.

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