Grown in Detroit

Where I live, San Francisco, if you signed up on the waiting list for a community garden plot this afternoon, you might be sitting down to plate of homegrown potatoes in, oh, 2015 or so. But as Detroit Free Press writer Marty Hair explains in “Vegetables and Concrete,” not only are lucky Motor City residents welcome to plant gardens for free in any of 20,000 (!!) plots owned by the city; they can even sell what they grow.

The yours-for-the-asking plots are often located in oddball spots: abandoned buildings, old factories, vacant lots—all plentiful after the auto industry came and (mostly) went. And even though the city of Detroit only leases the gardens to citizens for one growing season, hundreds of green-thumbed dabblers have started selling their output to nearby businesses and restaurants and at local farmers’ markets under a special Grown in Detroit label. Their efforts are encouraged by a group called the Garden Resource Program, an innovative grass-roots coalition that supports local organic farmers with seeds, information, plants, and funds to set up farmers’ market stalls.

It seems a peculiar foray for a city associated so strongly with industrial production. But as Johns Hopkins poli-sci professor Dr. Lester K. Spence points out on his personal blog:

Detroit is a city that has approximately 900,000 residents. At its height, 2 million called Detroit home. Most see the blocks upon blocks of empty space and see ghettoes. I see something else entirely.

In a March editorial in the Detroit News titled “Urban Farming in Detroit,” David Josar points out that:

In a city of roughly 880,000 people, there are just two large-scale grocery stores. Because public transportation is not always convenient, and an estimated 37 percent of residents live below the federal poverty threshold, most people shop at small independent stores that charge more and are more likely to have a meager produce selection.

Detroit garden boosters are doing all they can to encourage the brisk rise in growers. There’s even an urban garden tour tomorrow. Is your city ready to see vacant lots bursting with green beans and cucumbers? Are the tattered remnants of boom-and-bust towns ripe for a new type of revolution: agriculture superseding industry?

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