Urban Agriculture

Detroit has a history of gardening and farming lots that goes back decades.  African-Americans, who left southern states to provide for their families through factory jobs in the Detroit area, brought with them their connection to the land and their knowledge of how to grow vegetables and flowers.  They knew how to preserve food, as well.  Mayor Coleman A. Young started the Farm-A-Lot program in the 1970s which allowed residents to obtain a permit to farm vacant lots in their neighborhoods.  The program provided seeds, seedlings and tilling of the land.  Today, there is an urban agriculture movement in Detroit that is recognized throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe. Three farms currently exist within the city, as well as over 100 community and school gardens as well as hundreds of family gardens.  There are also extensive training programs and support for urban agriculture ranging from bio-intensive growing methods to building a solar passive greenhouse.

Detroiters recognize that the value of the vacant land in the city goes beyond the construction of a structure.  Residents have turned “abandoned” lots into productive agricultural resources.  Mini farmers markets are springing up citywide providing Detroiters with fresh, organic food grown right in the neighborhood.  Urban agriculture should be recognized as an essential contributor to the local food system.  It ensures a ready supply of nutritious, high quality vegetables and fruits.  The entry costs associated with intensive food production on small urban farms in a cooperative environment is much lower and accessible than the current trend of mega farms.  Urban growers stand to benefit from increased opportunities to market local products.  The potential market for local value-added products makes urban agriculture even more attractive as a local economic development tool.

Actions Needed:

  • Community, school and home gardens and mini-farms should be protected and supported through local, state and federal legislation.
  • The City of Detroit should support the efforts of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network and others to identify and turn into production, multiple acres of City land on a long term lease with an option to purchase.
  • Update city codes and laws to allow urban agriculture, food production, and farmers markets on a neighborhood scale.
  • The City should acknowledge the importance of community gardens and protect them as resources that will not be taken over for other types of development.
  • The City of Detroit should provide resources and equipment for communities, schools and urban farms such as tractors, tools, seeds, topsoil, compost, fencing and access to water.
  • Identify and model other State programs that support small urban farms and help absorb the costs associated with food production, marketing and organic certification.
  • USDA initiatives to support the marketing and distribution of locally grown products to schools and creation of school gardens should be explored and encouraged.
  • Wherever possible, produce from local school gardens should be used in the preparation of school meals.
  • Encourage large public institutions such as Wayne State University, local hospitals, and large employers to source their cafeterias from local growers.

Explore The Detroit Food Policy

The Detroit Food Policy was unanimously adopted by the Detroit City Council on March 15, 2008

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One Response to Urban Agriculture

  1. Michael says:

    You have nailed many major points concerning the empowerment of the community in deciding its nutritional affairs.

    I would like to ask if you have developed a practical strategy in order to address the updating of city codes. I spent some time in Portland Oregon and was delighted that a small group of food conscious activists had taken up the task of engaging the city government in order to address the municipal codes surrounding agriculture, grey water systems, and residential allowance of non family living situations.

    If such a group exists, I would be happy to learn if the meetings are public; If no such group exists, I would be happy to participate in starting one.

    Thanks so much for all your work.


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