Detroit Urban Organic Agriculture

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Rebecca Solnit: "Detroit without money and jobs looks like the future that may well eventually arrive for the rest of us, and its experiments in urban agriculture were not the pleasure gardens, elegant laboratories, or educational centers that many urban gardens are now, but attempts to figure out how to survive. Much of the gardening that is now often educational or idealistic may soon come to meet practical needs in the United States, and given the rising levels of hunger in this country, it’s necessary now. In Detroit, a significant number of people get meaningful amounts of their annual diet from gardens. Clearly there is room to increase this informal do-it-yourself food supply. And as our economy continues to produce unemployed young people, nonwage economies and nonwage productivity will become important new arenas for growth.

The victory gardens model suggests how prolific backyard and urban gardeners can be and how, scaled up, they can become major contributors to feeding a country and to food security. A recent study by Sharanbir Grewal and Parwinder Grewal of Ohio State University envisioned what it would look like for Cleveland—another Rust Belt city with lots of potential green space and lots of hungry people—to feed itself. In the most modest scenario, using 80 percent of every vacant lot generated 22 to 48 percent of the city’s fruits and vegetables, along with 25 percent of its poultry and eggs and 100 percent of its honey. The most ambitious proposal also included 62 percent of every commercial and industrial roof and 9 percent of every occupied residential lot: it could provide up to 100 percent of the city’s fresh produce, along with 94 percent of its poultry and eggs (and 100 percent of its honey again). It would keep up to $115 million in food dollars in the city, a huge boon to a depressed region. It would also improve health, both through diet and through exercise. Clearly what might work in Detroit or Cleveland or Oakland is not so viable in superheated Phoenix or subarctic Anchorage. And then climate change can upset these enterprises as much as it can any agriculture—last year the Intervale Community Farm in Burlington, Vermont, at 120 acres the biggest urban agriculture project in the country, was devastated by torrential rain that washed out soil as well as plants. Spring deluges interfered with planting; Hurricane Irene did in many of the fall crops. The organization’s newsletter emphasizes that the summer season still produced a bounty of tomatoes, melons, and salad greens." (