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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Urban farming takes root in Detroit

Thanks Molly for sending this article to us!!!

Click here to see original article featured in BBC News.

Could growing fresh vegetables help save crumbling inner cities around the world and tackle hunger?

Reginald Moore and Rod Shepard hoe the ground
Putting in the spade-work at one of the charity's gardens

That is the ambitious aim of a charity called Urban Farming, which has its headquarters in Detroit, the capital of the US's wilting car industry.

The idea is very simple: turn wasteland into free vegetable gardens and feed the poor people who live nearby.

Motown has lost more than a million residents since its heyday in the 1950s and it is common to see downtown residential streets with just a few houses left standing.

Taja Sevelle saw the hundreds of hectares of vacant land in the city and came up with the idea of creating an organic self-help movement that would be "affordable (and) practical".

Beginning three years ago, armed with $5,000 (£2,500) and a pamphlet, the singer and entrepreneur managed to win a wide cross-section of support around the city. Now her charity is expanding across the US.

Ms Sevelle is also keen to discuss her ideas with the new Mayor of London, Boris Johnson.

With a handful of full-time staff, Urban Farming co-ordinates the cultivation of what amounts to 500 family-sized gardens across Detroit.

No greed

Visiting one of the largest allotments, on a site that had been derelict since Detroit's infamous 1967 riots, locals spoke about an astonishing transformation.

Derelict building overgrown with weeds and vegetation in Detroit
Derelict streets highlight Detroit's tough past and present

"There is something that every hand in this area can do," said Rose Stallard, who is keen to enlist as many volunteers as possible to help tend the garden and its precious crops.

As she organises a band of eager helpers to pull greens from the rich top-soil, Ms Stallard says food is more expensive than ever and neighbourhood shops are scarce.

"That's one cucumber you didn't have to pay 69 cents for," she adds, with a smile.

There are no fences but one local said greed had not been a problem.

"People are only taking what they need, because they know it's for everybody," he said.

Collective wisdom

Many of the regular gardeners come from rehabilitation programmes linked to the county jail.

Offenders say they have earned self-respect, as well as local thanks, for literally doing the spade-work.

"It's good for me to know that I'm helping somebody, instead of hurting somebody," said Reginald Moore.

Taja and Rose discuss crops
Taja Sevelle and Rose Stallard are keen to expand their work

"All this is positive. Next year, you'll see this all over," added Rod Shepard.

Providing free food on the doorstep brings people together and spreads collective wisdom, according to local city hall manager Gail Carr.

"Fresh fruits and vegetables are something that we all need. And we really, really need to educate our children in that area.

"If we don't, we're going to have a lost generation to many diseases such as diabetes," she said.


The local sheriff's liaison officer, Beth Roberts, said that crime figures had improved wherever Urban Farming took root.

Growing crops also marked a return to slower but better times, she said.

"We used to do this in our backyards. This used to be a culture, a way of life, so we're restoring that through urban farming."

Future plans

As the charity expands, it remains to be seen if enough local people will do the groundwork to keep the gardens blooming.

Showing off prize greens from a Detroit urban farm
Time to benefit from all the hard work
But the idea of permanent social change, away from the old industrial core, is something that Detroit sorely needs, according to the editorial page editor of the Detroit News, Nolan Finley.

"Today's reality is that we have a lot of vacant space, and not much economic opportunity," he said.

"You could have urban farming - you could have livestock in some of these stretches of empty land.

"You could reforest it into tree farms so you're not maintaining a sidewalk, a power line, for a street that has two houses on it."

The conversion from Motown to Growtown may seem far-fetched, but given Detroit's economic woes, marketable ideas are in big demand.

4 comments:

roxsen said...

There is a growing corps of commercial urban farmers who are using backyards and front lawns and neighborhood lots as their land base. They are practicing SPIN-Farming. SPIN is a franchise-ready sustainable farming system That maeks it posible to earn $50,00+ from a half acre. SPIN farmers utilize relay cropping to increase yield and achieve good economic returns by growing only the most profitable food crops tailored to local markets. SPIN's growing techniques are not, in themselves, breakthrough. What is novel is the way a SPIN farm business is run. SPIN provides everything you'd expect from a good franchise: a business plan, marketing advice, and a detailed day-to-day workflow. In standardizing the system and creating a reproducible process it really isn't any different from McDonalds. By offering a non-technical, easy-to-understand and inexpensive-to-implement farming system, it allows many more people to farm, wherever they live, as long as there are nearby markets to support them. You can see SPIN farmers in action at www.spinfarming.com

Sarah said...

this is so interesting to me. i'm in love with the idea of "farm to school" and "farm to table" programs.

Holly | Reed Photographic said...

This is really a great article - fascinating.

Em said...

This is wonderful! I have been cranking those wheels in my head around since this spring about starting a community garden here in Wake Forest - but I can only efficiently tackle one 'project' at a time so once I get my town's ordinance amended, then I will dive into getting things going on a community garden. I really think it's a wonderful thing to have and can benefit the community in more ways than just food!