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Sowing strong roots in Detroit’s food and farming community

Urban Roots’ plant biology activity COURTESY PHOTO

Urban Roots’ plant biology activity COURTESY PHOTO

By Ashley Atkinson
Special to the Michigan Citizen

Over the last decade, Detroiters have dedicated more than 100,000 hours to the study of sustainable agriculture and food systems through workshops and apprenticeships hosted by community-based organizations across the city.

In kitchens, classrooms and outdoor laboratories dedicated to the study of healthy soils, farm planning, pest management, harvest and post-harvest handling, scratch cooking and food preservation, residents have begun to reconnect with the food they eat and the neighbors they share our bountiful city with.

As a result of these new found skills and relationships, residents are securing jobs in Detroit’s burgeoning local food system or starting food businesses in the city; families are cooking and sharing healthy meals together; and urban gardens are more diverse and productive than ever before. 2014 will mark the 10th anniversary of one of Detroit’s most successful community garden leadership training programs, Urban Roots.

Urban Roots is a nine-week, hands-on course hosted by Keep Growing Detroit designed to teach emerging community leaders core community organizing and horticulture skills. Topics covered during the 40 hours of instruction include an introduction to the food system, the history of urban agriculture in Detroit, site assessment, garden planning and maintenance, garden design, soil science and compost, plant biology, fruit and vegetable production, and garden resource mobilization. Instructors include leaders from EarthWorks Urban Farm, Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, Neighbors Building Brightmoor, Detroit Farm and Garden, Michigan State University Extension, Michigan State University and City Commons.

In the last nine years, almost 300 students have participated in Urban Roots, learning the skills needed to create and maintain strong, vibrant, and sustainable community gardens. Graduates of the program include the chief architect of the city of Detroit’s urban agriculture ordinance, leaders within Detroit Public Schools responsible for reintroducing gardening and healthy meals to our public education system, staff and volunteers from dozens of community-based organizations looking to start or expand gardening projects to further their missions, and notable residents who have gone on to spearhead transformative work in neighborhoods from Brightmoor to the North End.

Keep Growing Detroit is currently accepting applications for the 2014 Urban Roots program. Enrollment is open to residents of Wayne County who demonstrate involvement and/or interest in community gardening. All applications will be considered. Class fees are $75 for the entire nine weeks and include all course materials. Limited full and partial scholarships are available to qualified applicants. For more information visit or call Lindsay Pielack at 313.757.2635.

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.


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