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The Landscape of Detroit is constantly changing

By Myrtle Thompson-Curtis       
Special to The Michigan Citizen

For some, Detroit is becoming an urban oasis for a healthy lifestyle shift, creating a change in the neighborhoods of Detroit. This change comes slowly for some, more rapidly for others and many are not sure what to think of it. As a lifelong Detroiter, I’ve witnessed a lot of changes, some I hope to never see repeated, such as the disrespect of citizens by city leadership, abuse of power, and economic inequality that creates a crushing degree of struggle in the city.

The fact that a city this size is labeled terms such as post-industrial and a food desert started me on a life-changing shift: educating myself in growing natural vegetables, creating food security for myself, my family, my neighborhood and surrounding community. When I became involved in growing food a whole new world opened up to me. I have seen a side myself and of Detroit I never realized existed.

The changes impact my family, the way we eat and the activities we do together. But because of the site where we grow our produce, which is on a city street, it has changed the way we interact with our neighbors. My husband, Wayne Curtis, and I named the site and our work the Feedom Freedom Growers and since 2009, we have grown fresh vegetables. On four publicly city-owned lots we grow up to 15 different varieties of vegetables and a wide variety of flowers. Most of the flowers are grown for pollination of vegetables and to attract honey bees and butterflies. The garden attracts folks driving by to say what a pleasant space this has become. As a young girl tending my family’s backyard plot with my grandmother who was born in the south, she held on to the idea of always having some fresh seasonal produce, today I have great understanding of this common practice.

Detroiters of all ethnicities and ideologies are growing food to supplement dietary needs and growing to relax and enjoy nature. Some urban growers are making a living from the food that is grown on their lots. There are urban gardeners growing produce to bring community members together and giving youth a healthy activity during warm months. Whatever the reasons, I am pleased to be counted in those numbers. The connection to food, soil and work has transformed Detroit. Since the mid-2000s the gardening movement has increased so rapidly. The city has approved the revision of the urban agriculture policies to remain current with this growing healthy lifestyle shift — it is really nothing new; just plain common sense for most.

I cannot count how many times folks transplanted from southern states drive by and stop as they discover our urban garden, appreciating the garden site and tastes of fresh produce. We have had the pleasure of meeting many activists and authors working toward universal justice principles. Canadian born environmentalist David Suzuki stopped by on the urgings of Kathryn Lynch Underwood and Ashley Atkinson; it is always an honor to act as ambassadors of urban gardening in this city. Feedom Freedom Growers are part of the Gardening Resource Program, also a collective of Detroit-based grassroots organizations that are working to increase health and reduce obesity in Detroit. We strive to do this through farming, cooking demonstrations, art and education related to healthy eating and deciphering media messages. The project is Childhood Incubator Research Project (CHIRP). Most of this work is directed at parents that have children 2-8 years of age. The CHIRP project runs from 2011 -2016.

The work keeps growing, being a member at- large for the Detroit Food Policy Council adds to my lists of responsibilities, but I welcome the chance to be a part of a good change in Detroit. The DFPC is made up of Detroiters from all areas of food-related fields in the city. I am an active part of the structure to create policy and/or give voice to the changes that may need to occur as related to food security and justice in Detroit. This work is very important on all levels, just as important as learning the connectedness of food to land and land to life. Working towards self-determination through a collective process is proving beneficial for many, just as the rights to fair processes, and food security and healthy life choices for all Detroiters.

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