“Were I an aspiring farmer in search of fertile land to buy and plow, I would seriously consider moving to Detroit. There is open land, fertile soil, ample water, willing labor, and a desperate demand for decent food. And there is plenty of community will behind the idea of turning the capital of American industry into an agrarian paradise. In fact, of all the cities in the world, Detroit may be best positioned to become the world’s first one hundred percent food self-sufficient city.”
In Guernica this month, investigative historian Mark Dowie explores the surprising notion that Detroit is fertile ground for an agrarian revolution.
What makes this notion even more compelling is that Detroit right now “is as close as any city in America to becoming a food desert”, i.e. a place where you can’t get fresh produce and where 80 percent of the populace subsists off “food” they purchase at gas stations and 7-11s. Even Trader Joes has turned down an offer to open a store there, a nightmare that lots of my fellow San Franciscans couldn’t imagine.
Oakland, another city like Detroit with a large poor population that has suffered from failing industry, blight and high crime rates, is hosting its own tiny, agrarian revolution with places like City Slicker Farms. Like in Detroit though, this “revolutionary” idea of growing your own food is deeply rooted in immigrant traditions. One of the challenges, however facing urban farmers, both Lao immigrants and young, white hipsters, is detoxifying the land, much of which has been spoiled by heavy industrial waste.
Another major challenge is the natural resistance on the part of law-makers to infuse too much of the rural and the agrarian into urban spaces like Detroit which is still, despite recent catastrophes, the “Motor City.”
A couple years ago, In These Times published a fascinating overview of urban farming in the U.S.
And having just moved to Bernal Heights, I’m a stone’s throw away from San Francisco’s most expansive urban farm, Alemany Farms which I encourage all of you to volunteer at when you have a couple hours free. The work is fun, the people are friendly and the food you harvest tastes pretty damn good.