Ponyride started in an abandoned building but today the building and initiative is teeming with life. It is located in a previously abandoned building in Corktown, Detroit. On one exterior wall, volunteer graffiti artists have decorated it with color. The main entrance right off the street is rather unassuming but the stories within are everything but, and so I thought to share some of the efforts that are taking place. I think it brings a new perspective to constrast with the story told in the media. There is no denying that Detroit has had a hard time. There are telltale signs everywhere. But I think success is really measured in their resilience. I think Ponyride is one such success story that I hope investors notice. It is creating new fortunes out of misfortune.
Ponyride is the brainchild of Phil Cooley, Kate Bordine and my sister Kaija E. Wuollet. It basically is an effort to provide a place for socially conscious entrepreneurs to practice their craft and give back to the community. Their mission:
Ponyride nurtures collaboration using shared resources, knowledge, and ideas to cultivate opportunities created by the strengths and crises of Detroit. Participants serve Detroit communities by sharing their craft and expertise.
Each business offers six hours of education or classes to the community per month. In return their rents are kept at a very low rate. To me it seems like they are finding the rough diamonds and and making them shine.
On the second floor above the dance and yoga studio is an open area with a kitchen off to the side. The Empowerment Plan resides here. They hire homeless women from shelters to sew coats that turn into self-heating and waterproof sleeping bags. These coats have been handed out to the homeless and also delivered internationally in places of crisis. It started with one woman, Veronika Scott and at the time of my visit the initiative employed fourteen women, giving them an opportunity to work and regain their independence after living on the streets. It made me stop to think what it would be like to live on the streets. It might feel like an imprisonment of sorts. I would not be able to buy French lentils, espresso or dark 85% chocolate, Nike shoes or a Rose bike. Really it is not at all about those specific ingredients or things but rather the option to choose to buy for our families the things they need and provide a home or the option to be without. The women I met were so positive and I wish them all well. I hope they all regain their independence to choose.
On the same floor, down through a narrow hallway opens up to another larger space. It is a co-working space that can be shared by different businesses and initiatives. There were a couple that sparked my interest. One such organization is edibleWOW. They produce a quarterly magazine highlighting local food. I met Robb Harper who is one of the publishers of the magazine and so very friendly. EdibleWOW has been coordinating a hydroponic education program at elementary schools to teach students how to grow herbs, lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers year round in soil-less conditions. Perhaps these children will continue the tradition of urban gardening.
Another initiative that uses the Co-working space is Detroit Soup which is a non-profit organization that provides micro-grants for local creative projects. It works in the following manner. Soup dinners are hosted around the city. For five dollars participants receive soup, salad, bread and a vote. During the dinner participants hear four, four minute long presentations about possible initiatives. Each presenter may answer four questions from the audience. In the end, the audience votes and the initiative to receive the most votes goes home with the money to carry out their project.
It is not so uncommon to hear of disagreements in a work place. I am not disillusioned to believe that there are no bumps in the road at Ponyride but there is a sense of collaboration. Perhaps it is because of the hardships that almost everyone has experienced in some way that petty things are put aside.
What an inspiring day it was. If I was to go again, it would be nice to bring a cake to share. I would set it down on the stone counter in the kitchen right next to the Empowerment Plan. If there are lots of people there on that particular day we would just cut the cake in slightly thinner slices so everyone could have a taste. If only a few are there we could slice it into slightly thicker pieces.
The recipe below I found on NancyCreative’s blog. The sweet potatoe pound cake turned out to be deliciously soft and with a dollop of whipped cream it reminded me of Thanksgiving, thankfulness and sharing with our close ones. Really the perfect cake to take to Ponyride.
Sweet Potato Pound Cake by NancyCreative
adapted from Taste of Home
225 g/8 oz/1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3.5 dl/1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 dl/1/2 cup light or dark brown sugar, well-packed
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
7 dl/3 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
7 dl/3 cups cold mashed sweet potatoes (if using canned, you’ll need a 40-ounce can)
1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped (optional)
3.5 dl/1 1/2 cups confectioners’ (powdered) sugar
3 tbsp orange juice
1 heaping tbsp of chopped pecans, for garnish
Bake the sweet potato in the oven at 200 C/390 F for about 45 minutes to 1 hour or until it is soft. Set aside to cool. Once cool remove the skin and mash with a fork.
Cream the softened butter and sugars until it is light and fluffy. Add in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each one. In a separate bowl combine the dry ingredients. Alternately fold in the dry ingredients and mashed sweet potato. Pour into a greased 10 inch/25 cm bundt pan and bake at 175 C/350 F for about 55-60 minutes or until a test skewer comes out clean.
Once the cake has cooled make the glaze by mixing the ingredients together and drizzling it over the cake. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream.