The art of inspired events.
By Michael Dwyer
PHOTOS BY MARINA PIA GOLDI
Haley Lertola came out of Western Michigan University wanting to make a difference. “After studying political science, I moved to Chicago with the intention of changing the world as we know it,” says Lertola, owner of Detroit Cultivated. “I had recently read Thomas Friedman’s book The World Is Flat and was determined to address environmental issues as they relate to globalization.”
The Great Recession slowed down her journey to find the perfect change-the-world job, and she landed a position in the event industry. As she excelled in the production of events, she discovered a grim contradiction to her environmental values.
“One night, at the end of the largest event production project of my career,” Lertola says, “I walked out the back door of the venue and as far as my eyes could see were heaps of waste. There was decor, flowers, food … in our desire to come together and celebrate, we are unintentionally causing destruction to our planet.”
Always trying to leave a small “imprint on the Earth in my daily life,” she says, “I realized that my ideals did not match my professional actions.”
Lertola began studying food production systems through the Harvard Extension School and traveled to several restaurants. She learned from chefs about locally sourced food, reducing waste and sustainable practices.
To stay in the event industry, she would have to take the lead. Back on track to change the world, it was time to make a difference — in Detroit.
DOING IT DIFFERENTLY
As a Michigan native, she is quite familiar with the revitalization of the state’s largest city. “Detroit is exploding with businesses that are working with local farms to source seasonal, chemical-free ingredients for their food products, incorporating ethical practices, and creating intentional and natural products,” Lertola says. “Detroit’s small business community is incredibly supportive and collaborative, as opposed to competitive.
I have never experienced anything like it.”Coming back to Michigan and setting up shop in Detroit, Lertola held her first event last February and organized 11 other events last year. She plans to hold at least 25 events this year and double that in 2018.“The city offers so many incredible spaces — industrial warehouses, museums, art galleries and historical buildings,” says Lertola, as she skips the banquet halls and prefers to use unconventional venues. She also hires chefs — not caterers. “Working with chefs allows us to provide a unique culinary experience for our clients as well as to better achieve our goal of sourcing seasonally and locally. Chefs tend to have relationships with small, local farms because they order food in lesser quantities.”
The provocative statement, “We’re committed to disrupting the Detroit event industry by creating inspired experiences that incorporate sustainable practices,” is the first thing visitors see on the Detroit Cultivated website.
Lertola has collaborated with the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative and Forgotten Harvest. “These partnerships allow us to reduce the amount of waste our events produce by providing us with avenues [other than landfills],” she says.
“I developed Detroit Cultivated as a business where I could share my personal ideals by creating sustainable practices and applying them to the event planning process,” Lertola says. “Each event is an opportunity not only to reduce waste, but also to learn new ways we could become more conscious in our practices. Our future goal is to serve as an example to the event industry and help make changes on a larger scale.”
“Our wedding presented a number of challenges and stressors, but Detroit Cultivated created a Zen-like experience that allowed us to just relax and enjoy the best day of our lives,” says Sarah and Clint, wedding clients.
Lertola also works with corporate customers. “Under the watchful eye of Haley Lertola of Detroit Cultivated,” says Bruce Kridler, senior vice president of Greenleaf Trust, “our goal was to showcase our community with locally driven expertise, and we were thrilled with the outcome. From the imaginative locally sourced flower arrangements, table settings, flatware and dishes, to the local eclectic and inspiring music to the incredible food — our evening was a great success,” says Kridler, regarding the 2016 Greenleaf Trust event, Cosmopolitan Chicken Exhibit, held in Detroit.
“Detroit Cultivated views each event not only as a way of creating an unforgettable experience, but also as an opportunity to make a difference,” Lertola says. “We aspire to redefine the event industry, one sustainable occasion at a time.” NS
Detroit Cultivated’s public event UN•BRIDE•LED 2016
Detroit Cultivated’s next unBrideled event is coming up on May 18th. PURCHASE TICKETS