Urban Farming to the Rescue? Helping to Refresh Detroit’s Vacant Land

Editor’s note: Sven Gustafson and Julia DuBois of A Healthier Michigan attended Transformation Detroit, a media briefing focusing on efforts to remake Detroit. The event is being sponsored by the Detroit Regional News Hub and is being supported by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

Urban FarmIt’s no secret to anyone that dotted throughout Detroit’s skyscrapers and residential areas are a plethora of vacant lots. However, I don’t think many people know exactly how vacant Detroit really is, at least I didn’t until I saw this graph presented by Kurt Metzger, executive director of Data Driven Detroit at the Transformation Detroit media briefing this week.

There has to be a better use for so much precious land than just breeding ground for weeds. It turns out I’m not the only one who thinks this way.

Urban farming has become the answer to Detroit’s vacant land.

The concept isn’t new; urban farming as a way to revitalize cities has been bouncing around for years, and now the idea has come to Detroit. Utilizing unused land for farming has a wide array of positive benefits for the city, including:

  • Providing resident with fresh produce
  • Improving community relations through collaboration on maintaining the farms
  • It’s a great way to get rid of vacant land and eyesores
  • With less vacant land there is a reduction in crime
  • It bumps up property values

Although still in its infancy, there are more than 875 urban farms and gardens scattered throughout Detroit, Highland Park and Hamtramck that are managed by the Garden Resource Program collaborative. Probably the most well know and thriving urban farm in Detroit is the Earthworks Urban Farm on the city’s east side, a program of the Capuchin Soup Kitchen that consists of seven gardens spread over two city blocks. The produce from the farm goes everywhere from the soup kitchen, to a local farmer’s market and even to a local co-op.

Urban farming is a great idea for helping to get Detroit moving in the right direction towards revitalization, but it is not a cure-all. As Detroit Free Press reporter John Gallagher, author of the book, “Reimagining Detroit,” said at the media briefing, “farming, I think, has an important place in the city… but it’s only one piece of the puzzle. We shouldn’t get too far along thinking it’s going to solve all of our problems.”

What do you think of urban farming as a resource for saving Detroit? Do you have your own urban garden?

Photo credit: Earthworks Urban Farm

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  1. What has been missing in the debate about urban farming is a recognition that networks of neighborhood-based commercial farms can produce significant economic activity. That is because there have not been any economically viable crop production models that were appropriately scaled for cities. But in the last few years new farmers in the US and Canada have been having success with SPIN-Farming,  which is an organic-based, small plot farming system that outlines how to make money growing in backyards, front lawns and neighborhood lots.  If urban farming is promoted as a legitimate entrepreneurial business activity rather than  charity, it  can begin to garner the type of acceptance and support it needs to become established on a meaningful scale.  A free calculator that shows how much farm income can be made from backyards and neighbohood lots is available at  the SPIN website here:   
     http://www.spinfarming.com/common/pdfs/SPIN%20passalong%20calculator.pdf

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