Opposition to urban agriculture is irresponsible
By Roxanne Moore
Special to the Michigan Citizen
Growing food in an urban atmosphere creates different challenges than those associated with rural farms. One of the challenges is city dwellers expect farms to be hidden — many are not happy with idea of there being a garden or farm on the street on which they live. Residents have voiced fears about neighbors having livestock, about rodents, and about growing sites not being attractive to potential homebuyers and businesses.
Many people who own homes in Detroit do not occupy them. In fact, they do not live in Wayne County. The same can be said for businesses. Therefore, the vast majority of negative output and feedback concerning urban agriculture is not conveyed by actual Detroit City residents.
A high concern of those opposed to urban agriculture is how it will affect property values. However, the number one cause of blight in Detroit is neglect and abandonment on the part of property and business owners and little to no accountability imposed by the city’s administration.
There are also voices of opposition from outside of Michigan. The Rev. Jesse Jackson has come out strongly against the idea of large-scale farming in the city’s borders, according to a radio interview he did with Paul W. Smith on WJR-AM 760. Jackson is quoted to have said: Land management strategies are aimed at displacing Detroit residents by clearing out abandoned homes, and that “Detroit needs investment in industry, housing and construction — not bean patches.”
Rev. Jackson does not live in Detroit, nor does he work in any industry that he would like to see exist in Detroit.
Many people say Detroit should be a manufacturing power first and foremost. Detroit failed as an industrial city years ago, and there is evidence to suggest all cities based in the service of industrialism will fail if they have not already. When industries fail, they drag down all that is attached to them.
Detroit was not only the home of the auto industry, but all the suppliers that made assembly here viable — producing everything from windshields to exhaust pipes. Most cities across the nation concentrated industrial lands in certain districts or corridors, often in just one part of a city.
Now that these industries have failed, the negative externalities of industrial sites are being realized by citizens. Nothing “fruitful” can be done where manufacturing was once done. Citizens in the community are not responsible for the contamination and sterility of acres and acres of land in Detroit. Communities are not built by manufacturers or industry. Communities are built by the people who occupy them and depend on each other.
Detroit citizens who are taking the initiative to restore their immediate communities are constantly being met with resistance. Scrapping, prostituting, selling drugs, commuting arson and other detrimental forms of behavior continue to be tolerated, but a person planting a collard green risks being fined and run off of the garden.
Urban growers repurpose a great deal of what would be considered “trash,” which decreases the level of blight in their immediate communities. The existence of healthy fruitsand vegetables standing at any particular growing site is much more appealing than some property owner’s neglect.
Urban gardening has increased substantially in the last 10 years. It grew by actual citizen interest and direct economic benefit to its participants. When we see things in Detroit that are doing a service rather than detriment, we can count it as a gain.
There is nothing more sustainable than the growing of food. There is proven evidence that food grown closer to your residence is better for your health with the bonus of adding to the local economy. Let us stand behind the grassroots leaders of these innovative improvements when selecting projects for our neighborhoods.
Roxanne Moore is a member of the Detroit Food Policy Council.