From Desert to Farm: Food Self-Sufficiency in Detroit

Back in May, we did a post about the economics of poverty and restricted access to resources in urban areas. A recent article on a similar topic -- food deserts or food insecurity -- can be found at Guernica magazine. "Food Among the Ruins," by investigative historian Mark Dowie, looks into the access to healthy food in Detroit, a place that may well turn out to be the first "food desert" on such a large scale -- a place where healthy food is twice as far away as unhealthy food from any given point.

What's great about Dowie's discussion is his optimism about Detroit claiming another "first" as well: being the first 100% food self-sufficient city.

From the article:
There are more visionaries in Detroit than in most Rust-Belt cities, and thus more visions of a community rising from the ashes of a moribund industry to become, if not an urban paradise, something close to it. The most intriguing visionaries in Detroit, at least the ones who drew me to the city, were those who imagine growing food among the ruins—chard and tomatoes on vacant lots (there are over 103,000 in the city, sixty thousand owned by the city), orchards on former school grounds, mushrooms in open basements, fish in abandoned factories, hydroponics in bankrupt department stores, livestock grazing on former golf courses, high-rise farms in old hotels, vermiculture, permaculture, hydroponics, aquaponics, waving wheat where cars were once test-driven, and winter greens sprouting inside the frames of single-story bungalows stripped of their skin and re-sided with Plexiglas—a homemade greenhouse. Those are just a few of the agricultural technologies envisioned for the urban prairie Detroit has become.
The idea has some foundation in efforts already being put forth by local activists and organizations. In the 1980s, the "Gardening Angels," a network of older, African-American, Southern migrants, brought their farming skills to the city, "and set out to reconnect their descendants, children of asphalt, to the Earth, and teach them that useful work doesn’t necessarily mean getting a job in a factory." More recently, the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network has been working with soil remediation: getting rid of abandoned house foundations and removing toxic debris from empty industrial sites. Among other local efforts, an international organization, Urban Farming, has set up their headquarters there, aiming to triple the amount of farmed land in the city, all the while giving away the food to poverty-stricken Detroiters.

Read the entire article here.
Image: Farming in Detroit from the Memphis Flyer
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  1. Anonymous4:03 PM

    This is really interesting and shows a lot of potential. Here's a link to an article about a city in Brazil seeking to address similar problems:

  2. Funny how, as far as I can tell, Detroit is usually bashed for being a dead city. This post leads me to believe there is a lot more going for Detroit than other cities. Others should follow suit.


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