Farming the city: who is it for?

Detroit has lost over 60% of its population since 1950. A 2010 estimate put the amount of vacant publicly-owned land (specifically, vacant lots formerly used for housing) at 4,800 acres – or around 3,200 football pitches of empty space. In areas of high levels of vacancy, the depopulation is clearly visible on Google Earth.

Detroit has in for many years been a spectacle for global media attention from narratives of decay, violence and decline; and in the past decade stories of hope have appeared alongside this, looking at community regeneration, urban farming, and the growth of art and culture in the city’s most deprived areas. The importance of narratives of hope coming out of stories of urban agriculture in Detroit should not be downplayed. There are now over 1400 urban farms in the city. Projects such as The Michigan Urban Farming initiative demonstrate that real benefits can be made in communities by engaging people in urban agriculture and providing a source of fresh and nutritious food in areas where fruit and vegetables are inaccessible geographically or financially.

Many articles, videos and blogs have already told the stories of these initiatives and I would recommend seeking them out. There are some truly inspiring stories out there.

bd3e63_c7313a4d1d2b42b9b073edc47bf2cc4a(Source: Michigan Urban Farming Initiative)

However, all is not rosy. Telling a tale of communities coming back from dereliction and growing vegetables leaves a pleasant taste in the mouth, and for those of us far from its location, provides some easy lunchtime reading and we can go back to work happy that people are growing vegetables in Detroit. It’s not the end of the story.

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