When Leandra King was a child, she always found solace in nature. She’d ground herself in the soil by taking off her shoes and rolling around in the mud. It didn’t matter that she was outfitted in one of the expensive pearly white dresses her grandmother made her wear. Feeling the earth against her skin relieved the anxiety she experienced as a result of childhood trauma.
“Nature was always in the process of healing me and taking me through this journey,” says the 33-year-old Detroit native who’d spent time in the juvenile system in her youth. As an adult, King has made it her life’s work to share nature’s healing power with others.
In 2015, she started a community garden on 2 acres of land on the grounds of the former Peck Elementary School on Detroit’s west side and began providing fresh produce to neighborhood folks who would soon feel like family. Today, King’s venture, known as Detroit Farm and Cider, located between Lawrence and Woodrow Wilson streets, occupies 4 acres of land and features a solar-powered farm, three greenhouses, and 139 fruit trees, including pear, plum, peach, apple, cherry, and apricot. The cider mill is also home to a range of livestock, including goats, horses, and chickens. Visitors can buy fresh fruits, vegetables, eggs, honey, and jams sourced from the property, and in an effort to make her produce accessible for all, King accepts Electronic Benefit Transfer cards and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits for payment.
When King opened Detroit Farm and Cider last fall, the property became the first cider mill in the city of Detroit. Initially, cider and donuts were sourced from Parmenter’s Cider Mill in Northville as late frosts caused delays in the mill’s own production. When it reopens this month, though, the mill will press its own cider. Visitors will be able to watch the sweet elixir being pressed from apples grown in Detroit Farm and Cider’s own orchard and buy goodies from a new retail space.
“The difference between us and other traditional cider mills is that we’re focusing on a more holistic approach,” King says, noting Detroit Farm and Cider’s range of experiences beyond the orchard. In addition to the activities debuted during the mill’s first year in operation — hayrides, a rock wall, zip lining, and live music performances — King is taking the fun a step further this year with activities such as archery, goat yoga, sack racing, and horseback riding.
King — joined by her daughters, ages 7 and 8 — typically gets up before dawn to prepare for Detroit Farm and Cider’s reopening. Together, they handle everything from harvesting plants to feeding the animals. While the mill has been closed, she’s also worked to connect with the community by donating free produce to people in need every Monday.
“Ultimately, my hope is to create something that matters and has an impact,” King says. She wants people, including her own daughters, to experience the same peace she felt when she visited cider mills as a child. “I’d love to see the impact that this has on the community and enable people to experience something that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to experience if this wasn’t in the city.”
Detroit Farm and Cider, 1600 Lawrence St., Detroit; detroitfarmandcider.com