By Ashley Atkinson
Special to the Michigan Citizen
Physical work and activity. Safe and healthy environments. Plant-based diets. Community and faith-based relationships. A strong sense of purpose. According to researchers from National Geographic, these are the characteristics of people and communities that lead long, healthy and happy lives around the world.
Despite this evidence, our nation continues to allocate less than 4 percent of the $1 trillion it spends each year on health care initiatives promoting these ideals, choosing instead to invest in the development of new drugs and the expansion of disease-treating institutions that many Americans don’t have equitable access to.
At first glance, Detroit may seem no different than the rest of country. Playing outside, developing trusted relationships with neighbors and exercise is challenging in Detroit’s many neighborhoods where decommissioned city parks, vacant lots and stray dogs dominate the landscape. A plant-based diet is laughable when the only convenient and affordable outlets for groceries for many Detroit households are convenience stores specializing in liquor, cigarettes and lottery tickets. Faced with these immense challenges, it’s no wonder that our city is suffering from higher rates of obesity and preventable diseases than the rest of the country.
But that’s not the whole story. There’s more to tell. In true Detroit style, many communities are designing their own solutions to the harsh realities that prevent us from living long, healthy and happy lives, often with very little or inadequate official support or recognition.
Take communities like Brightmoor on Detroit’s west side or Farnsworth on Detroit’s east side, for example. Over the years, residents from these neighborhoods have created safe oases within the city by purchasing and renovating derelict homes, boarding up vacant properties, mowing vacant lots, and tending family and community gardens. Engaged residents in these communities not only feel safer than folks living a few blocks away, they boast neighborhood pride and demonstrate an extreme sense of belonging and purpose.
Detroit-based businesses and institutions are also helping to redefine health in Detroit. Places like Genesis Lutheran Church, Detroit Public School’s Drew Academy and Compuware downtown are transforming the land around them into public green spaces where residents can safely spend time outside, breathing fresh air and burning calories while growing, harvesting, and eating fresh fruits and vegetables. These places and people show the real story of Detroit. They are living examples of the power of community-based approaches to achieving healthy communities.
If you’d like to visit these places and experience examples of home-grown health, consider attending the 16th Annual Tour of Detroit Urban Gardens and Farms presented by Keep Growing Detroit Aug. 7 from 6-8 p.m. During this year’s tour, participants can choose from seven different themed bus and three bike routes featuring diverse gardens, farms and food businesses spread throughout Detroit neighborhoods.
After the tour, a reception featuring locally-grown food and refreshments prepared by local chefs will provide you with a taste of Detroit’s delicious food system. Registration is now open and early registration is strongly recommended. To register, please visit www.detroitagriculture.net or call 313.757.2635.
When registering, be prepared to provide contact information for all attendees and to choose which bike or bus tour you would like to attend. For parties larger than six, please call 313.757.2635. The fee for the tour, payable in advance or at the door, is a sliding scale $5-$75 to offset costs and help grow Detroit’s agriculture movement.
Ashley Atkinson is a member of the Detroit Food Policy Council and co-director at Keep Growing Detroit, an organization dedicated to promoting a food sovereign Detroit where the majority of fruits and vegetables consumed by Detroiters are grown by residents within the city’s limits.