Friday, August 7, 2009

Detroit Urban Ag Tour: Farming in the D!

Last Wednesday night the other interns, myself, and a CC member went on the Detroit Urban Agriculture Tour. The tour had three separate buses going to different parts of Detroit (east side, central, and west side) as well as two bike tours. Our group went on the east side bus tour which visited Earthworks Urban Farm, Farnsworth street neighborhood, Peacemakers Ministries, and Georgia Street community gardens.
The full history and origins of Earthworks Urban Farm can be read here. The farm looked amazing with native wildflowers interspersed with massive eggplants, beans, and tomatoes. The Farm has youth outreach programs that teach entrepenuership, and healthy eating so there were many young volunteers explaining different parts of the farm to us as we moved through. There was a hoophouse on the property showcasing one of the main methods for farms in Michigan to have a longer growing season. This farm used to be a vacant lot of open grass, but now feeds the soup kitchen patrons as well as supplies the Gleaner's Food Bank with fresh produce. There are several other initiatives around Detroit that are doing similar things to combat poverty and hunger within the city.

The next point of interest we saw was the Farnsworth neighborhood. We drove by many quaint houses that were teeming with plant life, both ornamental and edible. The neighborhood is home to Paul Weertz, the science teacher at Catherine Fergueson Academy that founded the farm program at the school. Himself and others in his immediate community fully embrace the joys of gardening as evidenced by what we witnessed.

The next stop was at Peacemakers Ministries International which is a non-profit that offers transitional housing, and food organizers grow in adjacent lots, for people suffering from substance abuse. This visit was especially intriguing because one of the garden spaces is in an old abandoned building that no longer has a roof. Within the building, there is a chicken coop and several raised beds that have flowers and vegetables.

The final stop on the tour before the reception was the Georgia Street Community Collective. This organization is right in the middle of the community it serves with its garden in close proxmity to a great number of houses. They are also starting an orchard on an adjacent lot to the garden. I especially admired the garden because it had a great deal of artwork in the signage which is great to see because gardens are spectacular community art spaces.

The tour reception was held at Catherine Fergueson Academy, where the tour organizers, local chefs, and volunteers provided a taste of Detroit's harvest with small samplings of various dishes made from Detroit grown produce. After the meal we explored Catherine Fergueson's fields, which were filled with vegetables, fruit trees, bee hives, goats, rabbits, ducks, geese, and a horse!

Overall I really enjoyed the tour and it was exciting to see all the dynamic things that are happening in this post-industrial city. The blending of urban and rural elements within the city helps to establish a greater ecological balance because Detroit is not currently experiencing pressures to develop land, but instead has vacant land that can be farmed which produces a harvest that is every more closely approaching food self-sufficiency.

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