The Rise of Urban Farms

| 12/4/2013 8:40:00 AM

Of Mice and Mountain MenTo most readers of Grit Magazine, a farm is not a strange or unusual sight. Many readers live on farms. But to most city dwellers, a farm is as mysterious and distant as a tropical rainforest is to us. Many city kids have never seen how food is grown; they know only that it comes from a supermarket wrapped in plastic. Some cities have started busing school kids out on field trips (literally) to nearby farms so they can get a look at what a field of produce looks like. Many cities have parks, and maybe a horticultural garden, but not farm land. I bet the last place you’d think to look for farm land would be inside a major industrial city, such as… oh, say… Detroit. The Motor City. And you’d be wrong!

The city of Detroit has for years been the poster child for urban blight: having lost 25 percent of its population over the last decade and with roughly 40 of the city’s 139 square miles vacant, according to The Detroit Free Press. But the actions of some residents and organizations may be about to change all that.

In the wake of the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, Detroit is rebranding itself as the D.I.Y. City, with projects such as urban farms, encouraging small businesses selling locally made products, and residents pitching in to handle municipal upkeep.

Bands of citizen volunteers have been swarming into vacant properties, abandoned and neglected by their owners, to cut grass, clear brush and pick up litter and debris. Many of the derelict homes are being razed by the city, but some feel there is a better way to go.

Abandoned home: _AP-Paul Sancya

Jeremy Haines, who heads Reclaim Detroit, told “We are turning the page here in Detroit. There is a flipside to the blight: there’s a stockpile of materials.”  Reclaim Detroit is an organization that has since 2011 been dedicated to reversing the urban blight through a process they call “deconstruction.”  Rather than bulldozing uninhabitable buildings, they intend to carefully and systematically disassemble them and reclaim the useable materials from nearly 80,000 abandoned homes. Many of these properties sell in foreclosure auctions with opening bids as low as $500. These materials are diverted from the municipal landfill and can be sold to further fund the program.

1/3/2014 4:22:00 PM

I certainly hope this continues. I have seen news pieces about urban dwellers, especially in those managed neighborhoods with home-owner associations, getting in trouble for plating a garden in front of their home. I guess people have to have their rules, but I'd much rather grow food than grass.

12/8/2013 3:24:38 PM

Allan, great post. I've read other articles about the rebirth of Urban Farming in Detroit. Rising from the ashes of despair, we could be seeing the future of the next generation of what cities will look like. Gardens were abundant during World War II. Much of the food in this country was grown on a local level. Even in my prosperous city there is much potential to use empty lots for growing food. So far there's no restrictions on growing gardens in my city. I've heard in other parts of the country that it's against city ordinances to grow vegetables in the front yard. Anyway, it will be interesting to see what happens in Detroit over the next few years. **** Have a great Urban Farm day.

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