Self-Sufficient Detroit? Urban Food Revolution in Motor City

Image credit: Guernica/Jonathan LaRocca

When Adam Stein criticized vertical farms and urban agriculture as "pie in the sky", his principle argument was that downtown urban real estate was too valuable for growing food, and that it would be better served by high-density, efficient housing and businesses, served by a local network of farms in the suburbs. He might have a point in thriving cities like NYC, or Chicago, where it seems hard to envision truly downtown agriculture taking off any time soon - but urban agriculture in Detroit is a whole different kettle of fish. With houses in Detroit going for under $2000, it seems the city might be fertile ground for folks seeking a different model of urban development. In fact, Mark Dowie over at Guernica claims that Detroit could feed itself - and it would be the first US city to do so. To prove his point, he set out to meet people who are trying to make it happen.
It turns out that many people have a vision for increased food production in Detroit. In a city where almost every major grocery chain has abandoned the downtown areas for the suburbs, food deserts and nutrition are a major problem - not to mention unemployment and poverty. But folks are fighting back. From urban hunters selling raccoon meat and pelts (really!), through community gardeners, through small(ish) scale entrepreneurs planning 70 acre farms, all the way up to a drug rehabilitation group that is planning a 2000 acre agrarian zones complete with greenhouses, orchards, raised bed gardens and chicken coops - Dowie describes an astounding array of visionaries.

And really, none of this is that far fetched. We've already seen the incredible potential of urban aquaponics and farming demonstrated by Growing Power, rooftop hydroponics is getting increased attention, and high-tech vertical farms can produce an incredible amount of food. But given the low cost of land, Detroit's vast size, and its dwindling population (Dowie claims Manhattan, Boston, and San Francisco could be placed inside the borders of Detroit with room to spare, even though its population is comparable) - even a simpler form of land-based agriculture may actually be viable for the former Motor City.

All credit to Dowie for this inspiring vision although he does also find detractors that are less excited - reminding folks that Detroit is a "city not a farm." But to my mind, as we look to a future with ever decreasing fossil fuels, a vastly changed economic landscape, and a food system in urgent need of repair - Dowie's vision starts to feel not only achievable, but downright desirable. Any Detroit natives care to share their thoughts?

Tags: Cities | Detroit | Food Miles | Local Food | Michigan | United States

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