Farming Detroit, Redux

by Arin Greenwood on May 19, 2011

Mark Bittman has a column in today’s New York Times on how growing food in Detroit could be good for the city and good for the people who live in the city:

During the 48 hours I spent in Detroit, I met enthusiastic black, white and Asian people, from age 10 to over 60, almost all of whom agreed that food is the key to the new Detroit.

I was driven around the city by Dan Carmody, director of the 120-year-old Eastern Market, whose huge sheds are crammed with vendors on Saturdays, when as many as 50,000 shoppers buy everything from Grown in Detroit vegetables to Michigan asparagus to flats of flowers to hydroponic tomatoes. In other words, a typical big-city covered market mash-up.

But if the market is familiar, the rest of Detroit is anything but. Read the paper, and you see a wasted landscape; go there, and you see the sprouts emerging from the soil.

Imagine blocks that once boasted 30 houses, now with three; imagine hundreds of such blocks. Imagine the green space created by the city’s heartbreaking but intelligent policy of removing burnt-out or fallen-down houses. Now look at the corner of one such street, where a young man who has used the city’s “adopt-a-lot” program (it costs nothing) to establish an orchard, a garden and a would-be community center on three lots, one with a standing house. (The land, like many of the gardens, belongs to the city and is “leased” for a year at a time. But no one seems especially concerned about the city repossessing.) A young man who adopts eight lots and has bought another three has an operation that grows every year and trains eager young people. A Capuchin monastery operates gardens spanning 24 lots, five of which they own; at one of them, I meet Patrick Crouch, who’s supervising 10 gardeners-in-training and reminds me that “community gardens are not just about ‘gardens’ but ‘community.’”

Listen to our podcast with law professor John Mogk on the legal and regulatory barriers standing in the way of Detroit’s urban agriculture movement.

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