You can check out my impression of Detroit during my short two weeks there in the latest post of my series on Grist.org: Peeling Back the Skin of Detroit.
Otherwise, I thought I’d document my time in D-Town through photos:
I arrived in Detroit and had arranged through the WWOOF program to stay and volunteer with Greg and Olivia, an amazingly cute and sweet couple engaged to be married next year, who run an organic urban farm called Brother Nature Produce. Olivia is a horticulturist raised in Detroit but comes from a family of farmers down South in Mississippi, and Greg is a former teacher of 15 years and has lived in Detroit for decades.
They have two “kids”: Vern and Aubin (named after streets in Detroit), a brother and sister duo that are the coolest, most bad-ass dogs in the city. Protectors of the farm and house, they also love to chase the wild pheasants that have populated the neighborhood and Aubin, the girl, plays guinea pig for Olivia’s sewing machine creations.
The farm started as a garden in Greg’s backyard, then grew as he kept making use of the abandoned lots behind his house. Now there are 3 greenhouses and about a half acre of land. With plans to expand to another two lots next season, Greg and Olivia are growing mainly salad greens but are planning for varied veggies for a CSA as well as a flower farm.
Greg was gracious enough to take me around to many other urban farm projects, and one of which was the Catherine Ferguson Academy Farm. The academy is a school for pregnant teens and teenage mothers, where they are able to learn some parenting and care-taking skills on the farm by feeding and taking care of the various animals and plants.
We worked on many things from building compost windrows for the winter, to transplanting baby greens like kale and mizuna, to harvesting and shoveling horse manure for the beds and compost piles. Mind you, this is all taking place less than 4 minutes from downtown Detroit!
I went with Greg and Olivia early Saturday morning to sell their salad mixes at Eastern Market, where they set up their Brother Nature Produce table every week. The market was huge and bustling, one of the only places in Detroit that felt really alive.
The rest of the city, however, didn’t always feel so alive. Pictured here is one of the city’s typical abandoned homes near downtown.
The possibility of radical, innovative solutions in Detroit was definitely the vibe in the air, but after seeing some of the same old politics play out between the decision makers and the activists there, I also couldn’t help but wonder with a bit of despair what the future holds…
For more pictures see the photo gallery here