Have you heard of urban farming? That’s the question posed by Urban Roots, to everyday people on the streets of Detroit. Urban Roots is a documentary produced by Tree Media, about the urban farming phenomenon in that city. It’s a revolution that is taking abandoned, blight-ridden tracts of land in the inner city and turning them into urban farms, which are then used to feed people and combat poverty and hunger. The film defines urban agriculture as:
The practice of cultivating, processing and distributing food in or around a village, town or city.
Detroit has lost more than half its population since the 1950s, going from close to 2 million to around 900,000 people in the space of decades. With the urban flight and relocation from the rust belt came thousands of abandoned buildings and vacant lots – more than 100,000 of them. Urban food pioneers have transformed many of those into farms to feed the community.
“Feeding a person for one moment isn’t really doing anything about getting rid of the systemic issues.” ~Urban Roots documentary
Many people have reported that their families were literally surviving on these gardens, and didn’t know how they would have eaten otherwise. Watch the 3-minute documentary trailer.
And urban farming to feed the hungry is going on in many other places, including my hometown of Austin. Recently I visited a community where the nonprofit Mobile Loaves & Fishes works, to interview a woman for a story. MLF provides food, clothing and dignity to homeless people, and they also help with securing permanent housing, job placement, medical care and many other services.
I was at a trailer home community where MLF has secured permanent housing for more than 50 formerly homeless people – including Peggy, the woman I was there to interview. Peggy was born without arms or legs after her mother took Thalidomide when she was pregnant. Confined to a wheelchair, Peggy spent 9 years on the streets until MLF helped her get into a home. Once there, I found out that MLF also runs a community garden, called Genesis Gardens, to help feed people in the local communities.
Genesis Gardens is about growing good food, building a strong community, and empowering the homeless through small-scale urban agriculture projects.
People are hungry and food literally grows from the ground. That alone is simple enough. Genesis Gardens grows thousands of pounds of nutritious fruits, vegetables, and farm-fresh products for those who can least afford it.
In fact, MLF and Paige Hill of Urban Patchworks, whom I profiled last week, have some ties as well. The Genesis Gardens concept and results have been so impressive, that the initiative was recently covered in an article in Christianity Today.
The Dinner Garden is another organization aiming to attain food security through community farms and gardens – their goal is one garden for every six Americans. The organization isn’t too far from me – about an hour and a half away, in San Antonio. The Dinner Garden says that we are all gardeners – anyone can grow their own food, and The Dinner Garden provides free seeds, gardening supplies and advice so people can do just that.
Their gardeners are creative when it comes to growing food with no extra money to spend. They grow in old pots, milk jugs, discarded baby pools, boxes lined with plastic bags and holes for drainage, old coolers, coffee cans, soda bottles, and cartons. They make their own compost for fertilizer out of yard clippings, bags of leaves people leave by the road, and kitchen waste. They make seed starting pots out of discarded paper. They collect rainwater and rinse water for their plants.
Remember, people were growing their own food long before gardening stores were invented! Human civilization began because people started gardening instead of foraging for food. They had seeds, dirt, and water. So if you have dirt and water, we’ll provide the seeds!
And you don’t have to be on the ground to garden! Rooftop gardens are gaining in popularity in dense urban areas. Check out this cool video about urban rooftop farmers in New York City – the 40,000-square-foot rooftop garden in Queens even has chickens and beehives (and is the largest rooftop farm in the world). Ben Flanner, one of the farmers profiled, said, “It started with the desire to farm, and also a reluctance to leave the city.”