Monday, September 19, 2011

And into the city: A Farm and Food Tour of Detroit

Farms. Urban. Food.

Those are three of my favorite words.

Put them together with a charter bus; some smart, sweet friends; and a crisp autumn day; and I just might start to purr.

This past Saturday, I had the pleasure of participating in a research project for a Wayne State University urban studies/environmental studies student in the form of a tour of four different food sources in Detroit.

The first stop was a non-profit fruit and vegetable store called Peaches and Greens.

Its owner was as cheerful as the store's bright yellow and green interior, and her sweet and strong spirit was catching.

Despite being surrounded by broken down homes and liquor stores,

Peaches and Greens is thriving.

It even operates a fruit and vegetable truck that makes its rounds similar to an old-fashioned ice cream truck.

Next stop was an extensive urban garden tended by Earthworks.

I'm not sure if I was more impressed by the charming winter squashes hiding under the vines, the massive compost pile, or the person wearing plastic bags for pants that was handed a hoe and told where to start weeding.

I'm sure the main gardener was saying really wise things to the rest of the group (I did catch a couple of "sustainability"s and a few "cold-hardy greens"), but mostly I just couldn't help but gaze upon the rows and rows of food growing right in the middle of blight. I mean, we passed the Heidelberg Project, twice.

Our third location was next door at Gleaners Food Bank.

We learned that hunger in the area is so pervasive that despite distributing more than 36 million pounds of food in 2010, only 12% of the hunger need was met. Yikes. I know how hunger can make people cranky. We walked on the pristine floors of the food bank, stepped inside its 2 degree freezer, and heard about their educational programs. Good stuff.

Lastly we headed over to Eastern Market.

I would have been overwhelmed had my lovely family not just taken me there for my birthday.

I love all the sights, sounds, and smells.

As all this talk of gardens and food deserts was making us hungry, we quickly found a soup cart and were delighted with the Moroccan Chickpea Soup it offered. This warm soup counteracted the cold facts that despite being in the Motor City, only 1/3 of Detroiters have a car. And because 500,000 of Detroit citizens live in a food desert (meaning it takes twice as far to reach a full grocery store than a fringe store, such as a liquor or convenience store), that makes it hard to get to healthy food. That, combined with the colder reality that many African Americans worked closely with food production (plantations) and preparation (kitchens) during their history in the South, and now are very removed from food in its natural state.

That just doesn't make sense. You know how I love solutions that make sense and the idea of using what you have on hand. So the fact that there are about 1600 urban gardens around town just tickles my heart. Detroit has vacant land. Detroit has hungry people. It just makes sense to plant a seed and grow your own lunch.

I love this idea so much that I've got a little project brewing over here. Within a month or two, I'll be able to share more...

Stay tuned!

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