Detroit, once one of the most prosperous cities in the United States, has seen its population dwindle in recent decades as crime rates skyrocket and many of its neighborhoods fall into urban decay. In 2013, the City of Detroit filed for bankruptcy, becoming the largest municipal bankruptcy case in U.S. history. Now, in an effort to reclaim their land and revitalize their city, Detroiters have turned to urban farming. Food Tank is highlighting 10 of the city’s top urban agriculture projects.
Brother Nature Produce, a two-acre farm in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood, has been expanding the availability of fresh, local produce in Detroit since 2009. Brother Nature Produce sells its produce at multiple farmers markets, in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares, and to Detroit restaurants that source food locally. The farm’s founder, Greg Willerer, also established the Downtown Farmer’s Market Detroit.
D-Town Farm was created by the Black Food Security Network. Malik Yanik, the director of the Black Food Security Network, sees D-Town Farm as a venue for teaching others the skills needed to run an urban farm, and as a means of demonstrating the potential urban agriculture has in Detroit. In an interview, Yanik stated that “the purpose [of D-Town Farm] is to show how underused or unutilized city land can be put to productive use, and to mobilize people to work on their own behalf.”
Detroit Dirt is a compost company with a straightforward mission: “To become the engine for the urban farming movement [in Detroit] by regenerating waste into the resources that will reshape” the city. By providing its compost to community gardeners and urban farmers, Detroit Dirt plays a vital role in completing the “circle of life” in food production.
Food Field, founded in 2011, is helping revitalize Detroit by producing “fresh, healthy, and delicious food while improving the neighborhood and creating economic opportunities.” Its founders, Noah Link and Alex Bryan, believe in using environmental and social goals to develop “a successful, community-based business [that meets] the need for local, affordable, and sustainably produced food.”
FoodLab Detroit is an incubator building a stronger food system for Detroit. Founder Jess Daniels believes that FoodLab is creating a culture within food businesses where companies “can be about more than just profit.” FoodLab helps small food companies grow by making connections and fostering relationships, and takes on big-picture projects that make good food a reality for all Detroiters. The incubator encourages triple bottom-line goals—to protect the environment and generate social value by providing services such as employing youth, healthy food access, and democratically run companies that treat employees fairly in addition to making a profit.
The Greening of Detroit’s mission at its 1989 founding was the restoration of tree infrastructure in Detroit. The organization has since expanded and now encompasses a much broader range of urban agriculture endeavors. Today, Greening of Detroit views the abundance of open lots as acreage on which to plant new trees and develop green spaces, prairies, urban farms, and pocket parks. They also use these spaces to provide food education and to create job opportunities for local youth and adult workforce trainees.
Hantz Farms Detroit turns “blight into beauty,” transforming vacant and decrepit areas into picturesque, agriculture-ready plots. Founder John Hantz conceived the idea seven years ago, and since then has bought 1,500 city-owned vacant lots. After the removal of trash and blighted structures, trees and food crops now occupy these spaces.
Keep Growing Detroit aims to create food sovereignty in Detroit through urban agriculture programs, including Grown in Detroit, a network of family and youth community gardens throughout Detroit; the Garden Resource Program, which provides participants with garden resources such as seeds and Detroit-grown transplants; and The Plum Street Market Garden, which models appropriately scaled, production-focused urban agriculture, trains urban growers and volunteers, and offers hands-on educations sessions.
The Michigan Small Farm Council plays a vital role in urban agriculture in Detroit. The Council seeks “to preserve and enhance the benefits of small-scale agriculture to individuals and communities by engaging in education, outreach, and policy-making processes” in order to “protect and extend the rights of urban, suburban, and rural small-scale farming operations throughout the state.”
The Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (MUFI) views sustainable urban farming as an educational opportunity and a way to create a food secure society. MUFI engages community members in sustainable urban agriculture and believes that, by fostering positive relationships and creating a tight-knit community at their urban farms, these civic-minded Detroiters can attack some of the city’s biggest problems: vacant lots, unemployment, and lack of access to wholesome foods and nutrition information.