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Fwd: CYBERGARDENS: Farming in Detroit (say what?)

  • Subject: [cg] Fwd: CYBERGARDENS: Farming in Detroit (say what?)
  • From: Adam36055@aol.com
  • Date: Thu, 4 Dec 2003 11:41:11 EST

From cg brother, Jon Crow of Brooklyn, NY and the Brooklyn Bears garden:
--- Begin Message ---
  • Subject: CYBERGARDENS: Farming in Detroit (say what?)
  • From: Jon Crow joncrow@earthlink.net
  • Date: Thu, 04 Dec 2003 11:19:48 -0500
------------------------------------------------------------
News from the CYBERGARDENS mailing list 
(cybergardens@treebranch.com)
------------------------------------------------------------

In today's Times!  Go Detroit!!
-- crow


In the Capital of the Car, Nature Stakes a Claim
By KATE STOHR
December 4, 2003

PAUL WEERTZ lives less than 10 minutes from downtown, but the view from his
window is anything but urban. On a warm day this fall, the air was ripe with
the smell of fresh-cut hay and manure. In the alley behind his house, bales
of hay teetered and listed where garbage cans once stood. Chickens scratched
in the yard, near a garage that had been turned into a barn. Mr. Weertz
drives a Ford  not a sleek sedan but a rebuilt 1960 tractor.

"My sisters and brothers gave me a pig for my birthday," Mr. Weertz said,
referring to his newest barnyard resident. "I am not sure what I am going to
do with it."

After decades of blight, large swathes of Detroit are being reclaimed by
nature. Roughly a third of this 139-square-mile city consists of weed-choked
lots and dilapidated buildings. Satellite images show an urban core giving
way to an urban prairie.

Rather than fight this return to nature, Mr. Weertz and other urban farmers
have embraced it, gradually converting 15 acres of idle land into more than
40 community gardens and microfarms  some consuming entire blocks.

Mr. Weertz, a science teacher, turned to farming 10 years ago to give his
students a hands-on understanding of the food chain. Other Detroit farmers
work for food banks, churches and community organizations hoping to sow
seeds of urban renewal.

Staking claims on abandoned lots, they produce about six tons of produce a
year, said Ashley Atkinson, head of the Detroit Agriculture Network, a loose
coalition of 230 growers and volunteers.

"People really don't believe it until they see it," Ms. Atkinson said. "I
have friends who say, `You are joking me, right? This doesn't really exist
in the city.' " 

Actually, it exists in nearly every major city. The population here has
dropped to less than a million today from nearly two million in 1950. After
the 1967 riots destabilized the city, families left in droves, leaving
40,000 lots vacant. The Department of Public Works says it spends $2.2
million a year clearing debris and weeds from the lots, which are
periodically auctioned for as little as $250.

"Detroit has been abandoned by everything, including grocery stores," Ms.
Atkinson said, suggesting that in a city where many do their shopping at
"party stores," liquor stores that sell some convenience items, community
farms are more than a symbol of environmental awareness.

Mr. Weertz has scattered his farm over 10 acres in seven locations. It
churns out not only hay but also alfalfa, honey, eggs, goat's milk, produce
and the occasional side of beef, which is butchered at a vocational school.
About 100 students work as volunteers.

On three vacant lots in northern Detroit, 500 volunteers are helping the
Capuchin Soup Kitchen to plant, pick, pack, can and distribute a ton of
produce a year: tomatoes, kale, cabbage, wax beans and more than a dozen
other vegetables, leafy greens and herbs. Proceeds from sales, roughly
$2,000, barely cover irrigation and other expenses, said the Rev. Rick
Samyn, who coordinates the operation.

Urban farmers face a number of challenges, from finding water (renegades tap
into fire hydrants, Brother Samyn said) to eliminating broken glass,
concrete and unsavory contaminants like lead from the soil. Hayfields,
mistaken for "ghetto grass," have been mowed down by the Department of
Public Works just as they are ready to be cut and baled. Greenhouses are
sometimes claimed by the homeless, and pilfering is a fact of life.

None of the farms are profitable, and all depend on students and volunteers
 more than 1,000 citywide, Ms. Atkinson said. Members of her network have
received about $300,000 in grants and donations, she estimated, including a
few grants from the United States Department of Agriculture normally aimed
at rural growers. 

Advocates often say profits are secondary to building a sense of community.
"It's a means for people to take control of their neighborhoods and get
tangible results that they can see and eat," said Yamini Bala, coordinator
of Detroit Summer, a youth gardening group.

--- CYBERGARDENS
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--- End Message ---




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