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Motor City Plants a Seed: In Detroit, Urban Farmers Hope for Radical Harvest

Susan Notes: This story has to make you cheer.

Here's an inspiring story of renewal and human gumption to cheer you.

It comes from Detroit -- the hard-hit, gritty city that has lost thousands of its jobs and suffered a massive outflow of population over the last few decades, leaving abandoned buildings and vacant lots. Indeed, a third of the property within the city limits is nothing but boarded-up buildings and trash-littered lots.

But, today, something new is growing in Detroit... literally. Coming off of dozens of those vacant lots are tons of hay, honey, chickens, goats' milk, tomatoes, herbs, beans, and even beef. This urban agricultural abundance is being produced by a hardy group of Detroiters who're turning Motor City into Garden City. More than 40 community gardens and microfarms -- working with churches, schools, food banks, homeless groups, community organizations, and activists -- not only grow a cornucopia of food in the city, but also process and distribute it, offering a terrific example of truly grassroots economic development.

One of these urban farmers is Paul Weertz, a science teacher who a decade ago wanted to connect his inner-city students to nature and food. He and his student volunteers have converted seven abandoned lots into 10-acres of fertile farmland. Now there are even rabbits and pheasants that have been drawn to this revitalized acreage in one of America's biggest cities -- a phenomenon he calls "a totally surreal experience."

But its real, and both economically and spiritually uplifting. Detroit City farmers are also converting an old auto shop into a community center with a greenhouse, cannery, and café, drawing other small business to the neighborhood. "Growing vegetables is just a vehicle for other kinds of change," says one farmer.

These Detroiters are showing us that true grassroots growth comes not from corporate trickle-down, but from ourselves. To learn more, go to the Detroit planning group's website:

"In the Capital of the Car, Nature Stakes a Claim," New York Times, December 4, 2003.

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Motor City Plants a Seed
The Progressive Populist


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