Fresh Food

Detroit Continues to Lead the Way in Urban Gardens

The Lempert Report: The city offers several programs that could serve as inspiration for other regions

Detroit's urban gardens are part of a long tradition that extends back to the 1890s. In response to the recession brought on by the Silver Panic of 1893, then-Mayor Hazen Pingree urged Detroit residents to plant their own backyard gardens. While his efforts were initially mocked as “Pingree Potato Patches,” urban gardens were a huge success, and actually ended up generating more income for participating families than those families received from government assistance programs.

Then, in the 1970s, then-Mayor Coleman Young’s Farm a Lot program set the goal of transforming 3,000 empty lots into urban gardens. The program assigned interested Detroit residents their own lots, with the goal of helping citizens trim living expenses while creating a greener, more appealing urban landscape.

Urban gardens are playing an important role in Detroit’s recovery: Today, the city has one of the most robust urban garden networks in the country. More than 23,000 Detroit residents participate in urban gardening, and the city boasts more than 1,500 individual gardens.

There are two key programs that other cities should consider emulating:

  1. The Detroit Garden Resource Program, which supports family, community, school, and market gardens in Detroit, Highland Park, and Hamtramck, provides resources for vegetable gardens—including seeds and Detroit-grown transplants, free soil testing, and tool-lending libraries.
  2. Grown in Detroit is a cooperative that sells urban garden- and urban farm-grown fruit, vegetables, flowers and herbs that produced in healthy soil without harmful chemicals, pesticides, fertilizers, or genetically modified products at the historic Eastern Market, to area restaurants, and through a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program.

Both are operated by Keep Growing Detroit, a nonprofit organization with the stated goal of promoting a “food-sovereign city,” where the majority of fruits and vegetables Detroiters consume are grown by residents within the city’s limits.

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