Potatoes, Not Just Pistons, Take Root in Detroit | Civil Eats

Potatoes, Not Just Pistons, Take Root in Detroit

We’ve heard from the politicians, academics, activists, and social commentators about how to help a city like Detroit that is economically-depressed, struggling to retain residents (let alone attract new ones), and home to 500,000 food insecure residents. What has happened? Not much. People offer statistical calculations for how to reduce poverty levels but the city continues to lose residents and increase the number of vacant homes and lots. Mix in the obesity epidemic, lack of access to healthy, nutritious food and you’ve got the worst-case scenario for the city. I have a new equation to offer for how to build up Detroit. Till soil + plant seeds = self empowerment and community development. Multiply this over and over and the change is exponential. The enthralling short documentary, Urban Roots, proves this theory true.

Ironically, the problems that plague the city also offer the best hope for it. The city is slowly providing residents with opportunities to rebuild itself with their every bite of food. Urban Roots profiles residents in Detroit who are making in-roads into their community by transforming vacant lots by tilling the land, planting seeds, and harvesting foods. Although the idea of urban farming might be unknown to many people or just assumed to be commonplace in coastal areas such as San Francisco and Brooklyn, Detroit is becoming more about potatoes than pistons.

The film shows how community gardens are transforming thousands of acres of vacant lots in the city to grow food. For the hundreds of thousands of residents in food deserts whose only regular meals are from convenience stores or fast-food restaurants, residents now have the opportunity for locally-grown nutritious produce. People are growing foods for themselves, neighbors and to sell at local markets. This is infusing a cash-strapped city with much needed economic growth.

Most importantly, the film shows how these urban farms are tools for individual growth, community development and family survival. By growing and harvesting their own food, residents are empowering themselves to be self-sufficient and to empower their neighborhoods.

It makes complete sense. I am, not a mathematician, but I know this social equation works. Urban farming is one of the most sensible, yet radical, social endeavors helping to transform Detroit. It’s an heirloom city whose history of music, business and culture helped to shape our nation. I’m looking forward to the day when the city will be known for its new heirloom tomatoes, apples, and potatoes. Urban Roots offers a snapshot of this inspiring social and environmental movement.

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Sarah Newman is a vegetarian locavore living in Los Angeles where she frequents the 18th street farmers market. She works as a researcher and blogger at Participant Media, producer of Food, Inc. Read more >

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  1. Erin O.
    This really is happening in Detroit. There is even a school that is trying to prepare it's students to be urban farmers. The Sarah Ferguson Academy is a school for teen moms, and is set on a working farm. The produce and honey that the girls harvest is sold at Eastern Market to raise money for the school. The principal is trying to expand the farm to many more empty lots surrounding the school. It's a great opportunity for the students!

    It makes perfect sense because of all of the empty lots in Detroit. I just saw a study on the Detroit news that ~60% of the lots in Detroit are vacant. The Academy is teaching these girls to farm, and teaching them the economics of the farm. Now we need others to teach these skills to people in the neighborhoods.
  2. Thanks for highlighting the great food system change happening in Detroit, Sarah. Fittingly enough, TAKING ROOT, the 5th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference is being held in Detroit from May 17-19, 2010. It will be a great opportunity to highlight what is happening locally and nationally. http://farmtocafeteriaconference.org/5/
  3. Pattie
    Here's my post following an interview with Detroit's Urban Farming co-director Mike Travis: http://www.sustainablepattie.com/2010/01/come-see-whats-possible-taja-and-mike.html
  4. yay food
    I can't wait until I see some attempts at small livestock raising in urban settings or even the truly radical for westernised folk insect cultivation that would yield the sort of cheap but healthy protein and fat we need even more than vegetables.

    Glad to see urban farming, but would really like to see more attention paid to sustainably providing healthy protein and fat from animal sources.

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