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Urban Farming in Detroit

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Urban farming in Detroit
Turning the Motor City into Farm City

Urban farming in Detroit Turning the Motor City into Farm City

Subject: Intercultural Communication Studies 2nd Term Date of release: 16.02.2011

Table of Contents

1 2 3

Introduction ......................................................................................................................... 3 Characteristics ..................................................................................................................... 4 Urban farming in Detroit .................................................................................................... 5 3.1 3.2 SWOT analysis ............................................................................................................ 5 Urban farming projects in Detroit ............................................................................... 8

4 5

Conclusion ........................................................................................................................ 11 Bibliography ..................................................................................................................... 12

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1 Introduction
The term urban farming or agriculture recently pops up in the media. It is mainly applied regarding city development in third world countries, but as well it becomes more often a phenomena taking place in cities of industrial countries. After examining the general characteristics of urban farming, I am going to scrutinize the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of urban agricultural projects taking place in the city of Detroit. The former Motor City has been experiencing a dramatic economic collapse. Hence, because of its urgent need for change, it serves as prime example for urban farming in industrialized countries. Further on, introducing the Earthworks project in detail, the potential of urban farming as a possible long-term solution for Detroit’s problems will be examined.

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2 Characteristics
Van Veenhuizen defines urban agriculture as “[…] the growing of plants and the raising of animals for food and other uses within and around cities and towns, and related activities such as the production and delivery of inputs, and the processing and marketing of products” (Van Veenhuizen, 2006, p.2). Moreover, urban farming depicts an integral part of the cities’ economic, social and ecological system. This describes the sensible use of local resources like degraded land, workers, organic wastes and water. Furthermore, urban farming is operated by citizens producing for citizens. Even though most of the urban farms are non-profit organisations, they still guarantee food security and help to reduce poverty. Their work also has a great impact on people’s health by ensuring a better nutrition. Nevertheless, urban farming projects highly depend on the cities’ policy, especially concerning land distribution. Additionally, limited space, a low degree of farmer organisation, a rather specialized production of nutritious food and closeness to the local markets mark the phenomenon of urban farming. Its goal is the transformation of the cities’ physical and social environment in order to create a better future far away from poverty and hunger (cf. ibid., p.2). Three types of urban farming can be distinguished: subsistence urban farmers, family-type (semi-) commercial farmers and agricultural entrepreneurs (cf. ibid., p.3). Additionally, urban farming projects meet three policy dimensions: social, economic and ecological. Since this work does not have the extent to explain all of them, it shall be referred only to the social dimension, which concerns cities, including Detroit, with mainly food security issues and exclusion of certain parts of the population. Social urban farm projects produce mainly for their self-consumption. Because of the little direct viability, these people need extra income to cover all of their expenditures. Farming varieties within the social dimension are home gardening, community gardening and institutional gardens at schools or hospitals. Farms meeting the social policy dimension have a great impact on social inclusion, poverty alleviation and community development (cf. ibid. p.10ff). These functions shall be explained in detail introducing to the example of urban farming in the city of Detroit.

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3 Urban farming in Detroit

3.1

SWOT analysis

In order to examine the potential for urban farming in the city of Detroit, I am going to present a SWOT analysis. The former Motor City has been facing economic decline since decades, but the collapse of the so called “Great three” General Motors, Chrysler and Ford let the city’s problems culminate nowadays. While the city of Detroit had an overall population of about 1.85 Million inhabitants in its peak time in the year 1950, today its population is shrunken by about desperate 50% (cf. Grünweg, 18.02.2010). Statistics about unemployment in the region turn out to be contradictory. Official records state an unemployment rate of about 30% for the city of Detroit. Nevertheless, this number should be viewed with caution, since here only people officially registered as job-seeking are taken into account; part-time workers or those who abandoned the idea of looking for a job are not included in this statistic. In fact, the unemployment rate of Detroit city is estimated to cover 50% of the population (cf. unknown, 16.12.2009). The economic crisis forced many families to leave their houses. As a result, about 27% of Detroit’s area are covered with fallow land. Whole streets of abandoned houses get demolished (cf. Benedetti, 11.08.2008). The investigation of the use of Detroit’s land revealed that nearly 5.000 acres of public land owned by the City of Detroit, Wayne County or the State of Michigan are vacant on more than 44.000 parcels (cf. West, 22.11.2010). Hence, the availability of unused land as well as the high potential for recruiting people from the desolate labour market form the basic assumptions to enable urban farming as a successful development strategy in Detroit. The steady closing down of big supermarkets in the city of Detroit has left a food desert. The Earthwork project, which will be further explained in this essay, defines a food desert as “[…] a place where it is easier for someone to get access to low-quality foods like chips, soda, or fast food than to access fresh fruits and vegetables and good sources of protein” (Eartworks Urban Farm, p.1). If the inhabitants do not have the possibility of transport to go shopping in the suburban supermarkets, the only alternative is to buy food in small grocery stores with significantly higher prices and a desperate choice of fresh and nutritious food. Moreover, because of the great poverty caused
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by unemployment, about two thirds of Detroit’s inhabitants depend on food charity (cf. Cibien/ Guillon/ Carcanade, 2010). Hence, the demand for food consumption convinces Detroit’s inhabitants to take part in urban farming. As will be further explained, a strong cooperation in between several associations can already be recognized as strength of urban farming in Detroit. In contrast, this agricultural movement shows also some weaknesses: Most significant is the so far limited support from the official side. Regulations about the use of the abandoned land have not been found so far. Even though the city of Detroit is deeply in debt, it is only disposed to sell small amounts of land. A law frame for using publicly owned land for private use needs to be enacted to support the growing non-profit urban farming movement. Like this, the city will not make any direct profit from its land, but at the same time the food grown on the parcels will ensure the food consumption of its population. The fund rising represent another weakness of urban farming. So far many of the urban farming projects in Detroit work as non-profit organisations run by locals to feed locals with the outcome. Hence, donations are essential to keep those projects running. Some of the urban farming communities also sell their harvest on markets. So, poor market accessibility or a rather bad reputation might be weaknesses as well. The standing of fresh food grown in Detroit might be influenced by industrial caused environmental contamination from the past (cf. Colasanti/ Litjens/ Hamm, 2010, p.11). Analysing strengths and weaknesses of Detroit as a place of urban farming, certain opportunities and threats can be constituted: The greatest opportunity is the development and extension of urban agriculture to satisfy the demand for food consumption and to facilitate the access to high-quality food. Thus, by ensuring a better nutrition the inhabitants’ health can be improved. Additionally, the supply of occupation, even if it is unpaid, can open up new perspectives and hope to the unemployed population. The fact, that unemployed people spend about 60 to 80% of their money in food, shows the indirect financial impact on volunteering in urban farming communities and harvesting own fresh vegetables and fruit by saving on the households expenditure (cf. Van Veenhuizen, 2006, p.8). At this stage only few communities also make profit out of their businesses. But in the future bigger and better structured agro-companies might also supply new jobs and even boost the local economy by stimulating the development of microenterprises. Especially, the extension of the growing season by modern farming techniques such as hoop and greenhouses is a step towards commercialization (cf. ibid., p.4).
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Nevertheless, right now the self-sufficiency of the locals represents the most important goal. In the US about 4% of the population grow the food for the rest of the society (cf. Cibien/ Guillon/ Carcanade, 2010). This unbalance stands out especially in times of economic crisis, when unemployment and poverty does not allow many people to actually buy nutritious food. The instruction of inhabitants in farming methods and food education can not only improve their nutrition and health, but more likely also give attention to the value of local products to. The establishment of farmers’ markets as an economic factor is another opportunity for urban farming to closely link its creators with the local community. The formation of strong neighbourhood ties represents the greatest impact of urban farming apart from the economic factor. By taking part in the local community urban farming constitutes also a social value. The integration of disadvantaged people, including e.g. unemployed individuals as well as the local black population, in the society is a big opportunity (cf. ibid., p.4). In spite of all those chances for development, still some features, which might threat urban farming in Detroit, have to be designated: Even though the urban farming projects in Detroit try their best to become self-sufficient, they still depend on donations. Hence, a lack of fund might undermine present projects. Additionally, the absence of political cooperation and a restrictive planning policy concerning the land issue might threaten the creation of new farming communities. The acceptance of urban farming by the locals is crucial, since the projects are undertaken to provide them the skills to help themselves out of the food crisis. Especially the bad reputation of the physically hard farm work discourages people from participating in the vision of urban farming. Moreover, highly educated people might refuse to work in the agro-section for a reason of motivation (cf. Colasanti/ Litjens/ Hamm, 2010, p.10). The lack of knowledge might cause post-harvest loses because of improper food distribution. Also, the contamination threat is to be taken into account. Therefore, regular controls are necessary to ensure a good reputation of the local farm products.

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3.2

Urban farming projects in Detroit

In 2009, the Natural Home magazine ranked the Detroit urban agriculture project Earthworks in third place of all US urban farms (cf. Montour, 18.02.2009). Hence, I would like to describe this project as prime example for the Detroit urban farming movement. Earthworks is a project of the Christian Capuchin Soup Kitchen. It was founded in 1997 by the Franciscan brother Rick Samyn in order to ensure food security and to care for the local poor (cf. Eartworks Urban Farm, Retrieved 05.02.2011). Since the project is a non-profit organisation it greatly depends on donations, the work of volunteers and sponsored materials (Eartworks Urban Farm, Retrieved 04.02.2011). In the course of the years Earthworks built close ties to other urban farming projects such as the Gleaners Community Food Bank or the Wayne County Department of Health. Thanks to close collaboration Earthworks has been growing steadily. In 2001, under the project name Fresh the distribution of fresh food among women and children began. To overcome the transportation problems of the participants, soon Earthworks started organizing weekly farmer markets spread over the city of Detroit. In 2004, the creation of a huge greenhouse took place in order to grow vegetable seedlings. These have been distributed among local families and community gardens to support the further expansion of urban farming in Detroit. Hence, the distribution of about 100.000 seedlings each season represents the motto “help towards selfhelp”. Finally in 2008, Earthworks decided to take its products from the market in order to donate the fresh food to the Capuchin Soup Kitchen. Like this Earthworks dedicated its harvest to the neediest people in the area (cf. Eartworks Urban Farm, Retrieved 05.02.2011). Therefore about 80% of the produced vegetables and fruit are used for the supply of charity meals (Gabriel, L. (cf. Gabriel, Retrieved 25.02.2009). From Monday till Friday everybody is welcome to join breakfast and lunch at the Capuchin Soup Kitchen located right next to Earthworks garden (cf. Eartworks Urban Farm, Retrieved 05.02.2011). A rather small amount of products, e.g. honey, jam and hand balm, is sold on markets by the so called Youth Farm Stand teens. Hence, food preservation by jam making, fermentation, dehydration, canning and freezing serves to ensure the consumption of a wide range of high-quality food throughout the year. Furthermore, the farming methods of Earthworks declare the project to be environmentally conscious. These techniques include the utilization of compost as natural fertilizer, yearly crops rotation and the use of mulches. Additionally, every year about 20% of the beds lie fallow in order to plant cover crops and restore the soil fertility. Besides, flowers are supposed to attract a wide range of insects to the garden. Honeybees fulfil an important
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function concerning the pollination of the crops. Furthermore, they produce honey and beeswax (cf. Eartworks Urban Farm, Retrieved 06.02.2011, p.2). The education of the young represents also an essential part of Earthworks’ efforts. By exploring the community’s garden during weekly garden workdays the children from the neighbourhood get the chance to learn where food actually comes from. Additionally, they use the produce to cook high-quality and delicious meals together (cf. ibid, p.2). All in all, Earthworks and the Capuchin Soup Kitchen represent a self-sustaining urban farming project by attaching great importance to teaching the neighbours. Firstly, they can exercise the new methods inside the communities’ garden; later on the neighbours will also be able to carry on at home. Apart from the educational dimension Earthworks actually helps ensuring the local food consumption and fostering the development of the community. The project’s approach is considered to be bottom-up, since the strengths of it originate in the needs of the community for food, occupation and a better future – a project created by the community for the community. Networking between the urban farming projects in Detroit and other instances like the Michigan State University shows a high potential for further development. Nevertheless, regulations regarding the use of fallow land have to be found in order to smooth the way for further urban farming projects.

The high potential of urban farming in Detroit also attracts visionaries like the Detroit millionaire John Hantz. His plan to create the biggest urban farm in the world right in Detroit sounds like the economic resurrection of the former Motor City. The use of the fallow land would raise the real estate prices. The supply of new jobs could significantly decrease the city’s unemployment rate. Besides, food consumption would be ensured by the produce of the mega farm. Hence, Hantz’s farm seems to be the perfect solution for all of Detroit’s problems. (cf. Grünweg, 18.02.2010). Nevertheless, so far the bodies of Detroit hesitate to sell the required land to John Hantz. The main reason might be insufficient regulations concerning the land use. It has to be considered that Hantz does not plan to maintain a huge eco-friendly farm, but rather a highly industrialized mega farm. Therefore, new laws have to be enacted to safeguard the rights of local residents. Nevertheless, there seem to be no alternative to the broken city of Detroit than to give away land, since the city’s tax money is not sufficient to maintain the fallow land anymore. Detroit’s 900 independent urban farms fear the imminent takeover and commercialization by Hantz. Furthermore, they complain that so far Hantz only employs white people, even though
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82% of the population in the city of Detroit is black (cf. Sein Redaktion, Retrieved 02.02.2011). Hence, John Hantz only seems to care about profit and his ideology than fostering the integration of all of the city’s needy people. Hantz’s top-down policy depicts a deficit concerning the development of the city by its people for their own future. Thus, his mega farm is doomed to fail if he does not change his policy in order to win the locals for his ideas.

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4 Conclusion

The SWOT analysis revealed a high potential for the urban farming movement in the city of Detroit. Problems including the high unemployment rate, fallow land and the food desert cry for an immediate solution. Urban farming combats these problems directly. The unused land, which no longer can be financially maintained by the city of Detroit, gets turned into agricultural land, at the same time real estate prices for the city’s properties raise. The produce of the urban farms ensures food consumption, as well as certain projects teach the value of good nutrition to the neighbours and foster the development of the community. Urban farming can give new perspectives to unemployed people. By growing own fresh vegetables and fruit, the people have the opportunity to save a significant amount of money, they would normally spend in groceries. Furthermore, the occupation in gardening conducts to satisfaction. A better organization of urban farming projects might even lead to development profitable microenterprises creating new jobs. Nevertheless, Hantz’s vision of a highly industrialized mega farm right in Detroit represents a misapplication of the urban farm movement. Hantz tries to commercialize the ideas of a movement, which rather works selfsufficiently. His mega farm would threaten all small farms in Detroit. The supply of new jobs is seducing. Thus, it is the first time that a part of Detroit’s population learns to grow food for their own needs. The urban farming projects teach help for self-help to the neighbours, so they are able to form their own future. However, Hantz’s mega farm with it’s top-down policy might create another economic bubble like the former Motor City, always ready to burst as soon as it does not meet the economic needs anymore. Therefore, it is important to let the inhabitants participate in the development process of Detroit. Additionally, shaping their own future step by step helps to recreate a Detroit identity. Urban farming can be the first step into a better future by teaching the people to get partly self-sufficent concerning fresh food. Hence, in case of another economic crisis, urban farming helps the people to overcome the worst problems regarding food consumption. Urban farming might not lead to huge economic prosperity like does the industry, but it rather ensures the greatest needs of the population – food and community belonging.

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5 Bibliography

Benedetti, M. (11.08.2008). The urban prairie. Detroit farms connect people, food. Crain News Service. Retrieved February 02, 2011, http://www.crainsdetroit.com/article/20080811/ DM02/561420797/the-urban-prairie/

Cibien, L./ Guillon, A./ Carcanade, P. (2010). Video: Detroit. Gemüse statt Autos. ArteTV. Retrieved January 05, 2011, http://www.arte.tv/de/suche/3414946.html/

Colasanti, K./ Litjens, C./ Hamm, M. (2010). Growing Food in the City: The Production Potential of Detroit’s Vacant Land. Retrieved February 02, 2011, http://www.mottgroup. msu.edu/uploads/files/59/Growing%20Food%20in%20the%20City%20-%20Colasanti%20 Litjens%20Hamm.pdf/

Eartworks Urban Farm (?). Eartworks Urban Farm. Welcome. Retrieved February 05, 2011, http://www.cskdetroit.org/EWG/

Eartworks Urban Farm (?). Self-Guided Tour of Earthworks Urban Farm. Retrieved February 06, 2011, http://www.cskdetroit.org/EWG/docs/gardentourwhole.pdf/

Eartworks Urban Farm (?). Eartworks Urban Farm.Mission. Retrieved February 04, 2011, http://www.cskdetroit.org/EWG/mission.cfm/

Eartworks Urban Farm (?). Eartworks Urban Farm. History. Retrieved February 05, 2011, http://www.cskdetroit.org/EWG/history.cfm/

Gabriel, L. (25.02.2009). Greens and greenbacks. MetroTimes. Retrieved February 05, 2011, http://www2.metrotimes.com/news/story.asp?id=13732/
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Grünweg, T. (18.02.2010). Rettungsplan für Detroit. Äcker statt Autos. SpiegelOnline. Retrieved February 01, 2011, http://www.spiegel.de/auto/aktuell/0,1518,678546,00.html/

Montour, L. (18.02.2009). Two Chicago Urban Farms Among Top 10 in America. Natural Home honors City Farm and Green Youth Farm for sustainable initiatives. Natural Home. Retrieved February 06, 2011, http://www.naturalhomemagazine.com/press-room/NewsReleases/Chicago-urbanfarm.aspx#ixzz1DHsQyYCE/ RUAF Foundation (?). What is urban agriculture? Retrieved February 03, 2011, http://www.ruaf.org/node/512/

RUAF Foundation (?). Why is Urban Agriculture important? Retrieved February 04, 2011, http://www.ruaf.org/node/513/

Runk, D. (2010). Detroit leads the way in urban farming. The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved February 01, 2011, http://www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/Gardening/2010/0428/ Detroit-leads-the-way-in-urban-farming/

Sein Redaktion (?). Baut Detroit die größte urbane Farm der Welt? Retrieved Feburary 02, 2011, http://www.sein.de/gesellschaft/nachhaltigkeit/2010/baut-detroit-die-groesste-urbane-

farm-der-welt.html/

Unknown (16.12.2009). Detroit’s unemployment rate is nearly 50%, According to the Detroit News. Huffington Post. Retrieved February 07, 2011, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ 2009/12/16/detroits-unemployment-rat_n_394559.html/

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Van Veenhuizen, R. (2006). “Introduction. Cities Farming for the Future”. In: R. van Veenhuizen (Ed.): Cities Farming for the Future - Urban Agriculture for Green and Productive Cities. (pp. 1-17). RUAF Foundation. Retrieved February 03, 2011, http://www.ruaf.org/sites/default/files/Chapter%201.pdf/

West, L. (22.11.2010). Will Detroit Become a Showcase for Urban Farming? Retrieved February 02, 2011, http://environment.about.com/b/2010/11/20/will-detroit-become-a-

showcase-for-urban-farming.htm/

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