Food deserts to urban oases: solutions for the circular economy

I live in a suburb of Detroit in Southeast Michigan. For many years, large parts of Detroit eat deserts – Areas where there are no supermarkets, ie no fresh meat or other produceespecially the nutritionally unhealthy stuff like chips and snacks available at the liquor stores.

80% of Detroiters are black, many living in poverty because whites have historically kept black communities underfunded. As Sonali Kolhatkar puts it:

“U.S. cities are highly segregated, often with roads or freeways separating higher-income predominantly white neighborhoods from lower-income predominantly black neighborhoods.

This is no historical accident, but a geographic modern manifestation of age-old institutions like slavery and Jim Crow segregation… Predominately black neighborhoods are characterized by lower income levels, poorer education, less access to employment, greater violence, and more racist policing.”

The list of discriminatory practices in Detroit’s history is long: Denial of bank loans to black homebuyers and entrepreneurs (Black soldiers did not receive housing allowances and education vouchers given to white veterans after World War II); criminal police; limit public transportation so blacks can’t “integrate.” the suburbs or find better jobs there; not to mention leveling the only neighborhood where blacks owned businesses and upscale homes, and had a freeway running through it.

This is not surprising given that white officials have long refused to respond to their demands for reform Black Detroiters have historically distrusted the idea of ​​”integration.” (in collaboration with whites) to promote black solidarity in political and community action. Although the current mayor, Mike Duggan, is white and an avid reformer, he was elected by blacks, and black empowerment remains the dominant force in Detroit politics.

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The Solution to Food Deserts: Urban Gardening by Black Detroiters

As Detroit-area supermarket chains have long been reluctant to build stores in their neighborhoods, in a vibrant To grow their own food and eliminate food deserts, Black Detroiters use vacant lots where underfunding and evictions have led to widespread demolitions.

Two good examples are these Michigan Urban Farm Initiativefunded in 2011 (see my Article on habitat degeneration), and Brightmoor Community Gardensfounded in 2013.

I remember the excitement when the Brightmoor gardeners discovered they not only had enough food for their own families (the original goal) but enough to open a stall at Detroit’s Eastern (Farmer’s) Market.

Such initiatives directly address the problem of food deserts: they exist Community gardens throughout Detroit, provides not only fresh and nutritious food, but also services such as food banks, clothing giveaways and school supplies.

An important Impact of these local circular economies are they Fill participants with a sense of agency – “We make good decisions! We can do it!” – and a solid sense of community. As our online encyclopedia puts it:

Essentially community gardening is seen as a way to create a relationship between people and a place through social and physical engagement. Most urban gardens are created on open land, which varies in size and is generally planted as individual plots by community members. Such areas can support social, cultural and artistic events and help restore local community spirit.”

From the very beginning, urban gardens have strived for the good of the environment. Integrate some farmers Discoveries about regenerative agriculture into her practice.

For example sanctuary farms on Detroit’s East Side, Parker Jean and Jøn Kent, with their team of volunteers. Lay out cardboard and paper bags to starve out invasive weed plants instead of using herbicides, plant marigolds and lavender amid squash, melons and cabbages instead of using pesticides; and turn leftovers into compost.

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In cities like Detroit, urban gardening not only improves nutrition and community building by addressing the nutritional imbalances caused by food deserts. it also addresses environmental injustice: The disproportionate impact of air and water pollution on neighborhoods populated by the poor and people of color.

Sanctuary Gardens seeks to alleviate the problem of polluted water through the use of regenerative methods. Detroit’s Urban floods and gardens are also addressed by Urban Farm Manager.

How is all this urban farming financed?

Urban gardening uses a variety of public and private actors – Businesses and faith organizations along with city, state and federal funds.

One source of grants is the Detroit branch of the 2030 initiative for green urban architecture, which addresses the problem that few black farmers in Detroit actually own the land they cultivate. Municipalities with urban farmers often collect money for their projects local funding initiatives.

Jerry Hebron of Oakland Avenue Urban Farm helped establish the Detroit Black Farmer Land Fund, which had an initial budget of $55,000; Now he’s working with the City of Detroit and a variety of stakeholders to overcome that ingrained inequality between black and white land ownership, giving Detroit’s dedicated urban builders a sense of financial security on the land they work.

Closing the Loop Between Crops and Consumers in Detroit Urban Farming is part of a global initiative for collaboration between local producers and local businesses.

In a linear agribusiness dependent on a widespread distribution system, crops could be grown and harvested in California and move along a “supply chain” or chain of events (processing, transportation) to be sold to consumers who number in the thousands are kilometers away. Prices rise with every link in the chain.

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The International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) explains that in a linear economy “Food system actors such as farmers, processors and retailers have limited interaction with stakeholders outside their segment of the food value chain. As a result, impacts up or down the value chain are not taken into account.”

Circular Food Systems, on the other hand, do Advocate for sustainable urban development” and “Influencing sustainability policies and driving local action for low-carbon, nature-based, equitable, resilient and circular development”.

The gardens that thrive on Detroit’s brownfields are based on the same concept as the English Village Commons who were free to provide for each other until the Enclosure movement destroyed the villagers‘ Access in favor of large-scale cash crops.

It seems to me that this historic abuse of land for the benefit of a few is fortunately being reversed in today’s urban gardens, where communities are re-establishing ownership of their commons and turning food deserts into food oases.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own and not those of — In the post photo: Brother Nature Produce Urban Farm in Detroit Source: Michigan Municipal League photo taken April 21, 2011 Flickr cc

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