In the early 20th century the American city of Detroit was a booming industrial powerhouse and world leader in car manufacturing, with a population that reached nearly two million people.
But since the major car companies closed their factories, more than a million taxpayers have moved out of Detroit, leaving behind more than 100 square kilometres of vacant land, and nearly 40,000 abandoned houses.
Now after decades of urban decay, Detroit is undergoing something of a revival as a centre for a new trade – urban farming.
In this half-hour special Russell Beard meets a group of visionary residents who see the city’s vacant land as fertile ground for an urban agriculture revolution.
First is businessman Gary Wozniak, who has plans for a $220m urban farming project in central Detroit – starting by converting an abandoned truck depot into a fish farm capable of producing 2,300 tonnes of tilapia a year.
Across town, Mark Covington is tending to Georgia Street Community Garden, a small plot founded to revive his ailing neighbourhood. With many grocers in the city long closed, access to healthy fresh food can be a challenge. His vegetable patches, goats and chickens not only provide free organic fruit and vegetables to his neighbours, they have brought people together and even attracted newcomers to the area.
Individual farmers like Covington are helped by Earthworks Urban Farm, a highly-productive 0.8 hectare urban agriculture and education hub that supplies city farmers with everything they need from support to seedlings, and teaches students how to make a living from small organic plots.
Earthworks also supplies starter plants to veteran urban farmer Edith Floyd. As the number of houses on her street dropped over the years from 64 to six, she has gradually taken over many of the empty lots on her road in a practice known as ‘blotting’ or backyard lotting. With the help of her orange tractor, Floyd hopes to plant fruit and vegetables all along her street, and even set up a drive-through fruit market.
It is not only existing residents who have started growing food in the city. The last 10 years has seen a 59 per cent rise in young graduates moving into the city’s core, some drawn by the growing urban agriculture movement. Carolyn Leadley is one of them, and now runs Rising Pheasant Farms on Detroit’s east side. In the last part of earthrise’s urban agriculture special, Russell joins Leadley at dawn to help bike her produce to the city’s thriving Eastern Market.