Is Farming An Answer to Detroit’s Problems?
Detroit is a city with a split personality. There are sections that are booming. And there are parts that are vacant, overgrown and desolate. 40 square miles in Detroit are empty.
Kami Pothukuchi is an associate professor of urban planning at Wayne State University. She says, “Detroit is one of the larger inner city, older rust belt cities that has as much of its land vacant as it does. And in many respects Detroit is a leader in showing how agriculture can offer one solution.”
Romanowski Park in southwest Detroit is one example of how empty land can be filled with promise. Ten years ago this 18 acre park was vacant space. Now, along with typical park facilities, there are fruit orchards, stands of hardwoods, and a working farm. An acre and a half of vegetables and flowers are being grown there.
Rebecca Salminen Witt is president of The Greening of Detroit , an organization whose name states its purpose. She says, “Our objective is to create a healthy clean and green ecosystem for the city of Detroit.
Rebecca likes to show people Romanowski Park because its harvest is not just produce, “The neighborhood came together and had a lot to say about what it would do in this space if it had a chance.
It’s a great example of using green space effectively in a neighborhood. About 8 miles down the road, in downtown Detroit, Lafayette Greens is just about as urban as a garden can be. The park is on the site where the Lafayette building once stood.
When the building came down in 2010, Compuware chief executive Peter Karmanos — a master gardener himself — leased the land for a garden. Organic fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers are grown on the three-quarter acre plot. The produce goes back to the community. Last year from August to December 800 pounds of organic produce was harvested and donated to Gleaners.
Even on a rainy day the garden is a bright spot amid the concrete and skyscrapers of the city’s business district. It’s a place where Detroiters can come together.
But urban agriculture can also build barriers. In Palmer Park on Detroit’s west side, fruit trees are dividing the community.
Five orchards are planned for the park. Three were planted this spring, with the largest being a stand of a few hundred apple trees. Two more orchards and a variety of fruits – peaches, plums and pear trees - are part of the plan.
The urban orchards were part of a 25 year plan to return the park to its original splendor. But not everyone agrees with this part of the plan.
Eric McGaughey, who tends the trees, says there were a few people complaining because of concerns about rats and dust from the field.
The issue will go before city council when members return from summer break. Meanwhile, Eric works to keep the trees healthy while their fate is determined. He’s confident no matter what happens in Palmer Park, there will be more urban agriculture, “This is the future of farming, this is where people are going to be getting their fruits and vegetables in the next ten or 20 years.”
And it could be a large part of the future of Detroit.