Archive for the ‘Detroit’ Category
Greg Willers, farmer at Detroit’s Brother Nature Produce, was one of my favorite characters we met in Detroit. He has the perspective of an academic and the passion of an activist as he discusses Detroit’s meltdown and urban farming movement. Check out this great interview from ResilientCITY with Greg, one of the champions of Detroit’s urban agriculture movement.
I owe a post on my interview with Will Allen but I need to say a few words about our trip to Detroit. I had heard so many things about Detroit before our trip. That it was the most fertile ground of America’s urban ag movement. That is was America’s most third world city. That the city was on its knees. That it was a post industrial urban wasteland. None of what I had heard and read could prepare me for what I’ve seen.
Detroit is a city where you can can’t drive a block in many neighborhoods without seeing burned down houses, abandoned houses and vacant lot and after vacant lot (where burned or abandoned houses once stood). It’s a grim landscape that looks like it had been through a war. But amid all the rubble there are signs of life.
I had heard so much about Detroit’s urban agricultural movement. I had interviewed several leaders of the city’s urban farming movement but it wasn’t until our crew started driving through the streets of east Detroit and met a woman named Edith that I got it. Edith’s street has more farms plots than than homes (14 to be exact). There used to be homes, but they’re gone now. They were abandoned, burned down and razed. Now it’s a street of farms. Edith’s farms. She’s eyeing a vacant, falling down house with broken glass windows as the future site of her compost piles.The street has been transformed. The country has come to city and one woman has transformed here block into a place of beauty and fresh food.
The jobs aren’t coming back to Detroit. The heydays of the Motor City will not return. But the Detroiters that stayed behind amid the ruins are creating a new beginning. They’re feeding themselves. They’re growing crops for market in a city abandoned by industrial capitalism. It’s revolutionary. It’s as if the destruction were necessary to reinvent the city.
The way the folks at Sweet Water Organics see it, if you’re going to reinvent the food system you might as well go big. They’re not just growing vegetables and fish inside an idled factory, they’re creating a new vision for food production, jobs, education, waste reduction, and community development. The excitement they feels is contagious because the Sweet Water business model and nonprofit foundation offer solutions to so many problems: environmentally destructive agriculture, poor quality food, unemployment, and feeding a hungry world with locally grown food. Spend anytime here and you see how dynamic and fertile this place is. Today reps from Mayor Daley’s office in Chicago were here. I met the company’s director of replication who is planning to open the company’s first full scale aquaponics project in West Oakland. The foundation’s director of development says there are plans to create an urban village on site complete with a creative art space and housing. Think of the impact this kind of community based, environmentally minded agriculture could have in needy neighborhoods across America. May one thousand fish and vegetables farms bloom!
Next up: my interview with Will Allen, the guru of urban ag in America.
In advance of our trip to Detroit for an episode on urban agriculture I had an inspiring talk with Grace Lee Boggs, a 95-year-old (!) leader of the city’s social and cultural transformation. I asked her if the the good food movement and urban agriculture could be compared with the civil rights movement of which she and her late husband Jimmy Boggs were key players. She said no.
Such a comparison is “ahistorical,” she said. The civil rights movement was about an oppressed minority trying to become part of the system. The “quiet revolution” of urban agriculture is about creating a new system, a new reality that she says is “more profound.”
“What we’re entering into now is post-industrial civilization,” she said. “We’re really in the midst of a cultural revolution.”
Now that’s food forward.