Check out this initiative in Detroit, taking back the land and working towards food security in one of the country’s most troubled cities.
Keep Growing Detroit (KGD) exists to promote a food sovereign city where the majority of fruits and vegetables Detroiters consume are grown by residents within the city’s limits. Although we are a new organization, KGD’s talented and experienced staff operate a number of established and nationally recognized programs including the Garden Resource Program and Grown in Detroit. These assets and our organization’s strategic approach to achieving our mission described below facilitate the process by which beginner gardeners become engaged community leaders and in some cases food entrepreneurs addressing the immediate needs of the community while promoting change in our food system.
WE FOSTER HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS TO FOOD. In a vegetable garden, the act of planting, tending and harvesting gives the resident gardener a direct relationship to his or her food. This is a city where many residents must buy food at gas stations or convenience stores with bulletproof windows in monitored transactions. Against this backdrop it is transformational and empowering to put one’s hands in soil and control one’s food source.
The Garden Resource Program (GRP) connects over 15,000 residents of all ages with the food they eat. KGD provides seeds and vegetable transplants to thousands of family, community, school and market gardens. We distribute the highest quality seeds and sustainably grown transplants available in a city where access to such resources is nearly as challenging as access to grocery stores. Residents no longer have to travel farther and pay more for the materials needed to grow gardens. We also facilitate access to compost, row cover and specialized tools—the materials of advanced growing techniques—because gardeners want diverse and productive gardens.
WE GROW KNOWLEDGE OF FOOD & FARMING. The Detroit Urban Garden Education Series is hosted in local gardens and taught by skilled community gardeners. It provides relevant educational opportunities to support high production and advanced skills by offering classes in basic gardening, low-tech watering systems, farm planning, and season extension. Classes like the Urban Farm Fresh Cooking Series and Tour de Farm connect individual gardeners to the larger grower community. Support in the form of technical assistance, site visits, soil tests and guidance in community organizing and garden development yield more sustainable and productive gardens every day.
WE CULTIVATE COMMUNITY CONNECTIONS. To reconstruct community, KGD fosters interconnection between gardeners through “clusters” and regional resource centers. The heart of community lies in these powerful neighborhood-based groups that give local access to resources and host seasonal meetings, events and workdays to encourage networking. Each season, gardeners are brought together to plan, participate and evaluate these community events. Good communication, partnership with existing community organizations and leaders, and on-going relationship building are lessons learned and taught.
WE NURTURE LEADERSHIP SKILLS & CAPACITY. We believe in stewardship. In KGD’s advanced training programs, gardeners acquire technical and leadership skills. Since 2004, over 300 graduates have gone on to establish successful gardens and take on key roles as leaders, teachers, and mentors in their own neighborhoods and beyond. These veteran growers and new community leaders are the gardener-driven work groups fueling our program’s expansion with their enthusiasm and innovative ideas. Youth play a key role the future of our local food system. Thousands of young people are engaged in our Urban Agriculture Programs, a role that gives them the ability to influence and direct changes in their communities. Youth programs—Youth Growing Detroit and FEAST—provide avenues for leadership by youth.
WE CHANGE THE VALUE OF FOOD. Founded in 2006, Grown in Detroit is one of the best-known workgroup initiatives, made up of more than70 growers who sell their Detroit-grown fruits and vegetables at farmers markets and retail outlets throughout the city. It began as gardeners having excess produce from their gardens and wanting to provide fresh food access to their neighbors. Now grossing more than $50,000 annually, it demonstrates the earning potential of urban agriculture and it has also delivered a mountain of fresh and healthy food to the city’s residents. Many from this program have blazed a trail for viable market gardens and small-scale food businesses in the city. Ultimately, it has set an inspired precedent for the exchange of local dollars for nutritious local food all within city limits.
WE DEVELOP (FOOD) ASSETS. We need an aggressive strategy to meet the food needs of the 730,000 residents of the city of Detroit. Although family, school and community gardens play significant roles, it will require more farms and more farmers with the skills to meet the market demand but also to incorporate food production into the topography of existing urban neighborhoods. We cannot replace a neighborhood with a farm. The Plum Street Market Garden operated by Keep Growing Detroit is one example that demonstrates appropriately scaled, sustainable farming practices while providing training opportunities and technical support for the city’s market gardeners and emerging farm businesses.
In the vision for a new Detroit food system, we acknowledge the colossal obstacles perpetuated by our current global food system. Detroit, perhaps like no place else, has innumerable social, economic, and political forces working daily in opposition to change. As the antidote, Detroit has a community with deep roots and resilient citizens who are committed to creating a better city. It is Keep Growing Detroit’s honor and privilege to be a part of and to serve this community each day.