The Michigan Urban Farming Initiative is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that seeks to engage members of the Michigan community in sustainable agriculture. Using a agriculture as a platform to promote education, sustainability, and community, while simultaneously building reducing socioeconomic disparity
We’re a non-profit in the Detroit’s north end neighborhood. We’ve got a 3 acre campus
The work that we do falls into 1 of 3 categories
100% volunteer run
That was a lot of descriptive words in a very short amount of time. What is an agrihood? I did also talk to 3 other amazing rockstar millennials from that area:Tess Burzynski , Adam Pruett andJamie Todek.
Agrihood is an emerging residential development strategy that basically is taking a working urban farm and is centering it as the main part of a residential development
There are about 200 of them across the country
that is often leveraged as an amenity to increase the attractiveness or walkability or property values interesting-ness of a neighborhood. Probably the most famous example is Serenbe in GA if you look across the different Agrihood models fairly high income. So it’s sort of you talk to a lot of urban planners and developers.
bring up urban agriculture
academics super interested who don’t really understand the industry, in theory it makes a lot of sense but if you look at numbers, it’s not the highest and best use
urban ag isn’t performing really well as far as the performance on the land itself but the impact that it has demonstrated to have on adjacent property values.
So I am going to back up, incase you haven’t understood or missed it, so it’s basically like a mini central park except a farm in the middle of a community. Is it the size of a football field or a track? How big is it visual?
The campus itself is 3 acres
The production farm is one acre
So a typical lot is what a 1/3 of an acre? It seems like there are a lot of houses of it.
so the campus is not where the housing
a typical lot is 30 feet by 100 feet
We are located on 3 acres, it’s 19 parcels total. Of that 1 acre is production farm and the other 2 acres are our:
The food that’s grown there do the people come grow the food or who eats it? Do they buy it?
All the food is free for anybody that wants it!
And who grows it? The people who live near there?
its mostly volunteers of the non-profit
people who live near by that are involved.
We have a ton of volunteers
It’s not like a community garden where people come in manage their own plot. The non-profit basically through it’s own resources manages the farm. We harvest everything, basically if you are somebody who wants produce you can come to the farm whenever you want and we’ll do the harvesting for you. You can have as much as you want as we physically have. We do the harvesting and weigh it out.
Priority is sort of given to area residents but we don’t turn anyone away.
How long has it been there?
6 1/2 years.
Yes, it started very different then it is today.
I was in college, I am now sort of a college drop out and I work 80 hours a week
When I go through changes like that I say, like when I bought my first real estate investment my realtors license expired so I said I graduated to real estate investor so you could just say you are graduating to an entrepreneur.
Sometimes that works and others I say what am I doing with my life?
very small scale vision to build a community garden
developed incrementally over time
The housing angle
Is a conflict that we’ve been having with the city here
the Government in Detroit doesn’t like us
It’s such a rabbit hole if I go into the details so I will spare everyone
The city wants to put apartment complexes everywhere, and they don’t really like it when commmuniy groups have control over their neighborhoods
top down culture
we are sort of
it’s been test
basically we realized our farm and campus was driving a substantial degree of residential development on it’s own. The city is
actually do you realize has driven 2 million dollars worth of investment
100+ houseing stock that takes a fortune to
You take a typical home that costs $2-400k to rehab it’s value the most you’d get is less then $200k it’s really hard to find a way to get these homes rehabbed because it isn’t incentivized so you have to create these
We have managed to orchestrate this market that isn’t supported by the market on it’s own.
People are effectively willing to lose money on their homes value because the value of living near something like living near the farm is worth it to them. That’s a really powerful thing. Especially at a time where the role of urban ag is land use and urban framework is
View urban ag as transitional land use
well do this until there is sufficient development pressure to engage in more traditional development.
existing urban ag
we might not exist in the future and the powers taht be are banking on that but if we can show that this farm is capable of driving the investment and the land use the city claims it wants can also be used as non-going assets that maintains property values that is a really profound thing!
That is how we ended up where we are today in this existential crisis and lengthy battle that’s still ongoing, the future is uncertain.
Why are you a non-profit then?
Oh, no. We can pay for the land. We are not being given the opportunity to purchase it.
Who owns it?
the land that we are on we own just under 1/2 of it
it was a number
we could demonstrate good stewardship, then the administration changed and said
“oh no we want this land”
There have been a lot of things that have happened, it is basically owned by the Detroit land bank. We have basically been like name your price we will buy it, not because we have the money, but we have built such a support network and we have enough emphasizers who say if you can get the deed we’ll pay for it
but we’re not given the opportunity to do so
1/3 of the land is owned by this quasi governmental isn’t beholden to this democracy city government is.
Let’s talk about something else because I can talk about controversy theories all day.
I grew up in Ann Arbor mostly did a lot of gardening with my Mom
Growing up I grew a lot of tomatoes and eggplants with my mom and grandpa
I did landscaping for 7-8 years
Kind of grew up doing it. That’s kind of my gardening background experience.
It was so long ago with my grandpa, I think he did everything organically, but I can’t say for sure
My mom used miracle grow
The farm itself is organic, that’s just sort of the model we have chosen to take.
I don’t have this philosophical. I think fertilizers play an important role in supporting a global food system.
Were developed in a systemic place
We are at a point where industry is adapting to our heightened consumer awareness
We not worried about if we are eating but what we are eating so that produces better products
the farm itself is organic, the way that we learned how to do it
through trial and error
We spent a lot of time on google
just follow the instruction
only products we use on the farm
liquified worm poop
We won a contest where we literally won a metric ton of liquid worm poop
Idk how this came to be has sustained us for the last 3-4 years
A lot of people ask us about our soil quality.
that and water
test all of our soil
our soil is well below the points to plant tubers
Our location is on formally residential land
I read a thing from an engineering firm
90% of soil in Detroit is totally fine unless you were on a former industrial site you are gonna be ok. That has been our experience not only was the soil contaminate free but it was super nutrient rich
It sat vacant without a structure on it for 15-20 years, so there was over a decade of natural organic buildup that put us in shape for growing.
Where’s Flint in relation to you?
IDK I’m really bad in geography? I’m good at using certain words to make me which is critical in the non-profit world.
Well don’t worry about because you are pretty well versed in Public Land Management and the Urban Real Estate and Sustainable Ag. I talked to this other Rockstar Millennial Danny Swan from the Ohio Valley and he’s a lot like you doing a similar reclamation project. The similarity ends as far as their soil was not good.
They’re the enemy we have no reason to hate our neighbors, it makes no sense but we grow up trained to hate Michigan people to hate people from Ohio!
Are they doing sunflower reclamation?
They are using compost and anything they can get to help the soil.
It’s funny this last year was the most removed I have been removed from the farm itself. I work 80 hours a week and it’s hard to make the admin stuff work.
This year I was like farm interns make it happen, it was chaotic but it was good!
what grew well
We do really well with collards!
We could turn the whole farm into a whole collard production field and we could not make a dent in the demand! People love them.
If we grow any category we do multiple varieties
model we use is really focused on crop diversity
zones and tracks
type of crop
come in every size shape and color
first hand experience
expose people to how our food system operates
carrot that is purple IDK this was even a possibility
Let’s talk about the force and kind and what led you to believe carrots were only orange. Turns into a way to talk about market forces shape.
What type of space and how many tomato plants
21 plants for each variety
Whatever 22 x 21 is.
462 tomato plants
each bed is 10-12 foot post then we run tomato line. IDK if this is the best way, but what we are doing now.
metal wire between the two posts
net of tomato twine running down
grew and gained weight they would pull everything down.
now we have created like a matrix, it’s like a net or a mesh system