Over the past several years, the Southeast Michigan Sustainable Business Forum (SMSBF) has provided programs targeting people interested in local farms. We’ve collaborated with Michigan State Tollgate Center and representatives from US Dept. of Agriculture. We’ve highlighted urban farming projects from the area, like Recovery Park and have learned about the operations of Eastern Market. Locally-grown food is a significant component for making a “local economy” work sustainably.
With an abundance of vacant property and energy by many to reinvent the city, Detroit has seen an explosion of community and backyard gardens, homesteading and commercial agriculture. There are local farms with several acres in production, community gardens with raised beds, hoop houses, rooftop gardens —even bees on the COBO roof—and vertical farming projects. The challenges come with soil containing lead, arsenic and other chemicals deposited by decades of industry. Thus, many farmers use raised beds filled with clean soil or they seek out little-used land, like former schoolyards. Several production gardens have used recycled containers, like the former GM parts containers found on the rooftop farm of the Green Garage. Farm markets often require soil test results to make sure the food is being raised in clean soil.
These gardening/farming operations are meeting several needs. Most importantly they are providing fresh, healthy food to a local audience. Some produce is sold at farmers markets, some food is distributed through CSAs (community-supported agriculture where people pay for shares of the harvest), while some farms have contracts directly with restaurants. It’s nice to see ingredients from the urban local farms now often being identified on area restaurant menus. For foodies, local sells!
Many of the farming operations are using sustainable methods. As you drive around Detroit, you’ll see many gardens with water catchment structures. For our urban hop yard, we pull water off the roof of an adjacent building and store it in an IBC tank. We have drip irrigation that is controlled by a solar timer, providing water to our hops twice a day. Organic methods are often used by these local farms, maintaining the health of the soil and the eco-system surrounding the farm. You’ll often find beehives on the farm properties helping to pollinate the plants, plus producing another marketable product. Native plantings, like purple coneflowers, black-eyed Susans and goldenrod, are another way farmers attract the “good” insects to help keep pests away.
With so much unused land in the city, urban farming is happening in all parts of Detroit. One of the new development initiatives is the Fitzgerald Neighborhood Project. Bounded by Livernois, the Lodge, and
McNichols, the neighborhood is between the University of Detroit Mercy and Marygrove College. It’s a neighborhood that has both a dedicated population that has stayed, but also contains streets with some abandoned homes. Some homes will be restored and sold, while those houses which are too far gone, will be removed. What’s different about this project is that urban agriculture has been part of the neighborhood plan from the beginning. There are several houses already sold which have been designated as homesteads, having attached lots to be used for urban farming. It’s an exciting plan that sees the value in producing food in a neighborhood.
As we launch into another growing season, I hope you seek out your local farms and growers. Most farmers are happy to share their stories, so take time to ask about their local farms. With profit margins usually very close, know that a bit higher price will be helping to keep their farm operation going and contributing to the “local” economy. It’s another way to choose to live sustainable.
Susan McCabe, Founder, Ribbon Farm Hops
Susan’s thirty years of experience in the non‐profit museum profession developed her skills in project management, fundraising, outreach, and communications. She launched Ribbon Farm Hops in Fall 2013. She has attended hop courses offered by MSU Extension and Gorst Valley Hop Growers. Susan has developed a network of industry specialists who act in an advisory capacity.