Detroit leads the way in urban farming
Detroit is ideal for urban farming, with the city beginning to provide a model for the world.
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"What's making urban agriculture interesting and sustainable is the small scale. A few lots in a community, potentially bringing some produce to market," said Frank Donner, who has helped run the Birdtown Community Garden in the Cass Corridor neighborhood for the past six years. "If you start getting bigger, it loses its niche."Skip to next paragraph
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At Birdtown, gardeners share the work as well as the fruit and vegetables they grow each year. Dug in the ground where an apartment building burned about 15 years ago and was never rebuilt, Donner said the garden has become "a wonderful source of not just produce but friendship and community."
At least one nonprofit, however, also wants to get into large-scale agriculture in the city. Self-Help Addiction Rehabilitation Inc., which specializes in substance abuse treatment, has proposed RecoveryPark, a 10-year, $220 million project that would create organic farms in four struggling neighborhoods.
The plan calls for about half of 2,000 acres to be used for 15- to 30-acre organic farms, with the rest used for education, commercial and housing development, parks and other green spaces.
The organization is waiting to see the city's new agriculture zoning regulations, but it expects to use land now owned by the city, state, schools and land banks, said Gary Wozniak, the nonprofit's chief development officer. The land could be bought or leased or held in trust, he said. The farms would employ recovering addicts as well as neighborhood residents.
"It's really a big job creation engine," Wozniak said. "We're looking to rebuild these neighborhoods."
Land-use rules being developed
Such projects — tailored to Detroit, but potential models for other cities — are gaining momentum as planners draw up the first land use rules governing agriculture since Detroit became urbanized. They are considering an agricultural district, where a wider variety of farming activities might take place, and specific rules would address how and where chickens, rabbits, other farm animals and bees could be kept.
A partial draft released last month provides a vision for agriculture in a postindustrial city. It lists 20 goals that include environmental, economic, social, and health benefits. By putting vacant land to use, planners also hope to discourage the illegal dumping that's a problem in blighted neighborhoods.
"My personal hope," said Kathryn Lynch Underwood, a city planner who grew up gardening in the South, "is that the model that we roll out benefits as many people across the board in a city that really needs people to be employed and engaged in meaningful work."
Editor's note: To read more about gardening, see the Monitor's main gardening page and our lively gardening blog, Diggin' It. Both of these have changed URLs, so we hope you'll bookmark them and return. Want to be notified when there's something new in our gardening section? Sign up for our RSS feed.