Friday, May 22, 2009

Detroit's Urban Farms: A new economic strategy?

Earthworks; an urban farming initiative started by the Copuchin Soup Kitchen, is working to both feed and educate the local community in the area. Since its inception, the organization has helped convert vacant lots into productive urban farms complete with rows of vegetables, a green house, orchards and even apiaries. Harvested food is transported to the adjacent Soup Kitchen which provides fresh, healthy meals to those in need. Organizations such as Earthworks are reasserting the centrality of food back into the lives of the surrounding community. They are part of a larger food movement working to show the link between how our food choices drastically effect our environment. In the process, they're blurring the divide between the notion of rural and urban land uses.

Detroit's landscape is peppered with overgrown pockets of vacant land. Viewed through the eyes of those working towards food security, this unique landscape provides an opportunity for communities to fill these voids with the life sustaining and neighborhood rejuvenating benefits of the urban garden. A simple garden can transform the appearance of a neighborhood. It is a place where ideas are exchanged, bonds are formed and skills are transferred from one generation to the next. Most importantly, it is a sign of a community's commitment to self-reliance.

Since the early 90's, over 600 individual plots have flourished in various neighborhoods across the city. Detroit's farmers and gardeners are pioneering a working model of a post-industrial American city in which the well-being of citizens is the driving force. This differs from the project-based economic development schemes seen over the past decades in Detroit. They focus on bringing jobs and economic success but have done little to improve the well-being of the inner city residents. The urban gardens effects are certainly smaller than a new casino or stadium, however, they're undoubtedly more consistent and sustainable.

The conscience of a community that feels complete self-reliance, develops assurance in its ability to take control of various challenges. It appears that the increased prevalence of urban farming may just be the first step to creating a new local economy. The first challenge was to build a new food economy and Detroit's communities have responded. Who knows what the next could be?

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