November 17, 2011
Detroit is a U.S. city that has been hit hard by poverty and dilapidation in recent decades. But its citizens are working on a grassroots strategy to rejuvenate their city with urban farming. Urban farms and gardens are popping up all over the city.
Jackie Hunt comes to garden at D-Town Farm in Detroit just about every day. She says growing produce is gratifying.
"You want to grow some of those big luscious tomatoes," said Hunt. "You want to get the red, red tomatoes that do not have the cracks in the top and the things on the bottom; you want to grow one of those. At least I do. I want to be able to say, 'Look, I grew this. Isn't this something?'"
D-Town is a 1.6-hectare farm that grows 35 different kinds of fruit and vegetables. Volunteers plant the farm together and in return get a discount on produce. Hunt says the aim is to give Detroit's residents access to fresh food.
"One of the things we can do by doing this, by having people who don't farm, who don't have gardens in the back yard, have them come out here and see how easy it is to plant whatever it is that's planted," she added. "It's like simple. You can do it in the back yard. You can grow enough in the back yard to feed everybody."
And the farm serves another purpose: it unites the community. Local residents help out at the farm and that's important for the area, says Kwamena Mensah, D-Town's manager.
"When there is a community project going on, then the kids, they feel a sense of ownership," said Mensah. "They will look out if people just dump tires and stuff in the garden . They won't let people steal the produce and everything. There are a lot of good things happening as a result of urban farming in this city."
D-Town is not alone. There are urban gardens all over Detroit - outside of offices, churches, at community centers. Some grow produce for sale, but for many, that is not the main aim.
Patrick Crouch manages another urban farm called Earthworks.
"They are really focused not necessarily on production, but on [there] being a space in which folks can grow food for their families and themselves," said Crouch. "Their focus is often times on community building, working with youth. It really depends on their location what their focus is, but they are all over the place. It's hard to go very far without noticing one."
Crouch says poverty in Detroit has helped to spur urban food-growing. Dilapidated buildings are common and there are large tracts of unused space around the city, which he says are ideal for urban farming. But he says Detroit is not the only city where this is going on.
"We see urban agriculture across the United States, in almost every metropolitan city," added Crouch. "It's becoming very important. You see it in cities like Oakland and St. Louis and New York and Boston, so it's very common."
But with farms like D-Town around the city, Crouch says Detroit is at the vanguard of the movement.