BY: MIROSLAV TOMOSKI
Once the home of Motown legends like Aretha Franklin, Detroit’s North End has had a rough ride since the days when the city was known as “the Paris of the West”. As the auto industry declined this bustling hub of the Motor City was transformed into a gallery of vacant lots and abandoned buildings. One of those vacant lots is now at the centre of a project which aims to revive the neighborhood by planting America’s first urban farm.
The Brush Street project – also known as an Agrihood – was planted by the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (MUFI), a local non-profit – and spans three acres. It features a garden which includes 200 fruit trees and over 300 vegetable varieties. The garden has provided free produce for up to 2,000 homes in the area since 2012, but now aims to expand. With the help of BASF and Sustainable Brands, a community of business leaders from around the world, the lot will now include a Community Resource Center and a café.
“Over the last four years, we’ve grown from an urban garden that provides fresh produce for our residents to a diverse, agricultural campus that has helped sustain the neighborhood, attracted new residents and area investment,” said MUFI president and co-founder Tyson Gersh.
MUFI was founded in 2011 by Gersh and a fellow University of Michigan graduate Darin McLeskey. They aim to use urban agriculture to revitalize the area and provide a platform for education on sustainability and community development.
Agrihoods have become a popular alternative to urban living in recent years, but MUFI’s version will be the first to be established in a major city.
“This is part of a larger trend occurring across the country in which people are redefining what life in the urban environment looks like.” Gersh said in an announcement of the project’s expansion.
When planting first began, locals were suspicious and weary that the garden would gentrify the area. In 2014 local resident Banika Jones told The New York Times, “A few white kids show up from the suburbs and it’s like, ‘Let’s let them adopt these lots and let’s get some’ — all of a sudden it’s corporate sponsors…They come in, they do their little feel-goodness and then they get to go home and say, ‘I helped the ghetto today, Mom,’ ”
But Jones has since discovered that the garden is helping to strengthen the community, and was even appointed to the board of the organization which also helped her to purchase a new home.
The project’s emphasis on local involvement has placed their focus uniquely on the revival of the exiting community, with many local businesses and organizations taking part, including General Motors which will help to furnish the new buildings.
With over 8,000 volunteers participating since the garden was first planted, MUFI has provided the city with more than 50,000 pounds of free produce.
The project is expected to be complete by the end of May in 2017.