Groundwork and partners lead Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development officials on a visit of seven Motown farms.
ABOVE: Rosebud Schneider and Tepfirah Rushdan of Keep Growing Detroit in the organization’s Three SIsters Garden.
On July 25th, 2023, Groundwork had the pleasure of hosting a tour of Detroit farms for officials from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Groundwork’s Policy and Engagement Specialist Amanda Brezzell joined partners Tepfirah Rushdan, of Keep Growing Detroit and the Black Farmer Land Fund, and Amy Kuras and Winona Bynum, of the Detroit Food Policy Council, to lead MDARD Deputy Director Kathleen Angerer and Policy Advisor Jonathan Mallek on the tour of urban farms.
Groundwork arranged the tour to help put in motion solutions to strengthen the food system that is quickly emerging among urban farmers and producers in Detroit. New solutions will also strengthen the 10 Cents a Meal for Michigan’s Kids & Farms program and local procurement in the region. With Detroit Public Schools Community District being the largest school district in the state, creating avenues of support for local food in the region is key in supporting the many children that the district serves.
The tour featured seven farms that each practice climate smart agriculture while incorporating Black and Indigenous farming practices. This style of farming is one that can be replicated across the state to protect our state’s water, soil health, and the broader environment.
Here is a quick rundown of the day’s highlights.
Keep Growing Detroit:
Our tour began at Keep Growing Detroit Farm (pictured above). The mission of Keep Growing Detroit is to cultivate a food-sovereign city where the majority of fruits and vegetables consumed by Detroiters is grown by residents within the city limits. KGD offers educational series tailored to growers, an online produce and valued added good market, and the Garden Resource Program (GRP). GRP supports urban gardening in the city by providing high-quality resources to family, community, school, and market gardens in Detroit, Highland Park, and Hamtramck. Participants receive seeds, transplants, personalized garden assistance from the staff, and a connection to a network of gardeners, farmers, and advocates for a thriving food system across the city. This program supports over 2,000 farms and gardens within the boundary outlined with satellite hubs located in various spots across the city. The hubs are stocked with wood chips, compost, seed-starting equipment, and more, all available for GRP members.
Georgia Street Community Collective:
Mark Covington and his mother, Lorraine, at Georgia Street Community Collective, standing in front of the remodeled corner store they use for community outreach.
The tour moved from KGD to Georgia Street Community Collective (GSCC). In 2008, the first Georgia Street Community Garden was started by Mark Covington, a lifelong resident of the City Airport Neighborhood. Now the space has expanded. After Mark was inspired to add an educational component, he began using the garden as a way to mentor students. GSCC has since refurbished an old storefront and its attached home into a community center with a community room, kitchen, computer lab, and library. The farm now comprises 17 lots on Georgia Street, including a fruit orchard, and is a satellite hub for Keep Growing Detroit. The mission of the Georgia Street Community Collective is to provide the residents in the community with health, education, leadership training, protection, and an opportunity to rebuild and sustain the community. The project is still growing. Mark works right now with a group of farmers and policy advocates in Detroit who are working on Detroit’s livestock ordinance. With this work, Mark will be able to reintroduce chickens and bees to his site, and offer more value-added goods for his community.
Deeply Rooted Gardens and Mobile Grocery Store
Dazmonique Carr (center, light blue) and the tour group at Deeply Rooted Gardens in the community orchard.
Deeply Rooted Gardens was the next stop on the tour. Here, Dazmonique Carr stewards the land while running a mobile grocery store that services people across Detroit with fresh, organic produce. Dazmonique was the youngest farmer on the tour, and represents the next generation of urban farmers who are excited to take care of land and community, and are making moves to own land in the city. WIth this Dazmonique has become well acquainted with navigating the land acquisition process, and assists other urban farmers in this process. Deeply Rooted Gardens is currently expanding to include several more lots to accommodate a hoop house and community kitchen where community members will continue to be served free dinner every Sunday.
Green Boots Veteran Gardens
Travis Peters (center, seated) and the tour group at Green Boots Veteran Gardens. Travis build the swing he’s on in his pollinator space that sits adjacent to the bus stop. He created the space to give pollinators and travelers a rest stop.
Our fourth stop was Green Boots Veteran Gardens. A veteran himself, Travis Peters stewards the land at Green Boots while creating healing space for other veterans. Travis focuses on generating high yields while growing on less than an acre of land. His organic produce serves the community in the surrounding area on Detroit’s West Side through weekly farmers markets, community events, and opportunities for people who put their hands in the soil and find peace through horticultural therapy. Travis also started the Food-craft H.U.B. (Horticulture Urban Builders) where he has set up a network of product aggregation, grant support and farm insurance, and physical building support for urban farmers. This initiative serves to provide a sense of security in a field that has historically had its challenges in being a reliable source of income.
The tour stopped at Fennigan’s Farms for a quick lunch and walking tour. Here, Claire Austin and I cofounded a sustainable agricultural design firm dedicated to food sovereignty and community resilience. On the land that they steward as designers and farmers, they created an outdoor maker-space and center for community resilience. Fennigan’s Farms serves to blend together ancestral Black and Indigenous farming practices with agricultural technology in order to create a space for community members to envision themselves in the future. Their farm serves the surrounding community with herbs, flowers, textiles, and educational events tailored to using these products to create value-added goods, helping to establish community autonomy in the neighborhood. Fennigan’s Farms is still expanding, and before the season is over, they will be adding a solar station and community eating space to the farm.
The JOY Project
Gabby Knox and tour group at The Joy Project.
The next stop on the tour was The Joy Project. On this site, cofounders Gabby Knox and Josmine Evans have created a living archive of African Atlantic agriculture and foodways. This space invites the community to remember indigenous practices, taste rarely grown produce and hear stories about Black and Brown peoples’ current and historical relationship to the soil. They invite others to bring joy and engage the community in conversation of history and heritage through food, embracing and acknowledging what we eat as our legacy and heritage. Their archive focuses on four main subjects. Recognition: allows visitors to not only recognize the experiences of Black People across the diaspora, but also serves as a living land acknowledgment and a celebration of the Anishinaabe. Remembering: the farm features plants that have been integral and influential in the diasporic culinary cultural experience, think okra, watermelon and cotton. Reconciliation: where we are reminded as we steward, to acknowledge how the plants displayed have been used in the oppression of humans. Restoration: visitors can explore a mix of traditional and more modern techniques of growing and engaging with the soil. The center of this circle features a paved patio area for community activities that invite nature into healing practices that restore the balance of the mind, body and spirit. This year, The Joy Project is expanding the site to include a full off-grid community kitchen where neighborhood members can cook, eat, and be in community with each other.
Parker and Jon stand with a tour group in the middle of their Detroit-based compost operation.
In October of 2020, Sanctuary Farms started with four vacant lots in Detroit and have now expanded to four more parcels that include an environmentally certified pollinator garden and robust compost operation. Co-founders Jon Kent and Parker Jean use an organic, no-till method of agriculture, using a farming system that works harmoniously with nature. Their produce is harvested with care and the variety of hearty greens, root vegetables, corn, and squash can be found in several farmers markets in Metro-Detroit including; Eastern Market Jefferson Chalmers, Birmingham, and St. Clair Shores. After noticing a gap in local production, Parker and Jon began creating the first compost to be generated in Detroit for growers in the area. Now their compost operations have expanded and serve the city of Detroit and surrounding areas with carefully crafted compost, packed with nutrients for soil health and better production.
Each farmer featured on the tour uses farming practices that the original caretakers of the land used and are part of the larger network of growers across the 2,000+ gardens and farms in Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park that also grow in this way. Sanctuary Farms demonstrates that the way we farm here in Michigan can be done in a manner that supports the health of the environment while generating enough yield to keep the community fed. The expanding local food system is primarily led by Black and Indigenous women, queer and non-binary people, and serves as a blueprint for other urban cities across Michigan and the nation.
Tepfirah and Mark at the Georgia Street Community Collective stop on the tour.
As the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development seeks to implement climate smart agricultural practices across the state and strengthen the agricultural sector, lessons learned from the farmers in Detroit can be translated to farmers in rural communities who are looking to farm in a more environmentally conscious way, while producing high enough yields to feed the community and generate a profit to support their farms. This is an exciting initiative taking place in Detroit that will serve to help understand the many faces of farming in Michigan, from urban or rural farms to small and large operations. Updates will follow as we continue to work together to find ways to feed Michigan and the children of this state while supporting local agriculture.
Amanda Brezzell, Policy & Engagement Specialist