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Lot by lot, Detroiters are cultivating food sovereignty

By Ashley Atkinson and Janell O’Keefe

Detroit and its residents are at crossroads regarding our city’s greatest resource: Land.

Some view the large amount of underutilized land owned by the city of Detroit as a burden on the city and a hole in tax revenue stream. But there are many who see this land as an opportunity for the city to direct future development according to the needs of our residents, and keep land in the public trust that could help Detroiters achieve food sovereignty.

Food sovereignty for Detroit would mean we understand and decide for ourselves what happens on the land we inhabit, and where we get the food we will eat; and that we have the opportunity and resources to grow our own food in our communities. In the coming days Detroiters will decide whether they want to follow the road that concentrates land and food production in the hands of a few or the road that uses land for the common good to achieve food sovereignty. Which road is taken will greatly impact the future of our city.

The Detroit Food Policy Council (DFPC), in collaboration with many others, has been working diligently to remove potholes from the road to food sovereignty, working to promote a fair and transparent process for acquiring city-owned land and developing policies to facilitate and support urban agriculture in a way that benefits all Detroiters and their communities. Simultaneously, residents and community-based organizations have been laying down the foundation for a food sovereign city. For example, this year participants in the Garden Resource Program planted 1,416 gardens on 138 acres of rich soil surrounding community centers, block clubs, churches, and in backyards of families across the city. These 843 family, 408 community, 86 school and 79 market gardens grew an estimated 170 tons of fresh and nutritious produce this season. That’s over $1.2 million worth of food being grown by Detroiters for Detroiters.

In addition, over 60 of these gardeners and farmers sold produce through the Grown in Detroit cooperative at four area farmers’ markets, to almost 20 local restaurants, and through a community supported agriculture (CSA) program. The cooperative earned over $80,000, with 100 percent of that going straight into growers’ pockets.

The road to food sovereignty is strong. Gardeners are traveling it daily, working together to grow food, knowledge and resources. However, the city is still waiting at the crossroads, trying to decide, “Should we follow the road that concentrates land and food production in the hands of a few or the road to food sovereignty?”

One of the biggest decisions at this crossroads is the proposal to sell 1,900 city-owned parcels to Hantz Farms/Woodlands. A sale of this size would set a new precedent for sale of city-owned land. However the city has not conducted an impact analysis or updated their land use policies to ensure the process is equitable, fair, and transparent. The City Council will vote on the proposed sale to Hantz Farms in a special session on Dec. 11 and will hold a public hearing before they vote.

Hantz Woodlands Public Hearing

Monday, Dec. 10, 6 p.m.
East Lake Baptist Church
12400 E. Jefferson (Jefferson and Conner)
Detroit, MI 48215

If you would like to share your opinion on which road Detroit should take, please come to the public hearing and share your voice. You can also call or write to City Council members to tell them your opinion on this proposal.



COUNCIL MEMBER SAUNTEEL JENKINS (Committee Chair)313.224.4248E-mail:

COUNCIL MEMBER KENNETH V. COCKREL, JR. (Committee Member)313.224.4505E-mail:

COUNCIL MEMBER BRENDA JONES313.224.1245E-mail: bjones_mb@

COUNCIL MEMBER ANDRÉ L. SPIVEY313.224.4841E-mail: CouncilmanSpivey@

COUNCIL MEMBER JAMES TATE313.224.1027E-mail: councilmembertate@

COUNCIL MEMBER KWAME KENYATTA (Committee Member)313.224.1198E-mail: K-Kenyatta_MB@

COUNCIL MEMBER JOANN WATSON313.224.4535E-mail: WatsonJ@

Ashley Atkinson is the Director of Urban Agriculture and Openspace for the Greening of Detroit and a member of the Detroit Food Policy Council.

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