You’ll Never Guess Which City Is the New King of Urban Gardening

Vacant lots have been turned into more than 1,400 community farms.

Husband-and-wife urban farmers Olivia Hubert and Greg Willerer, owners of Brother Nature Produce, pull weeds from a scallion patch on their one-acre urban farm in Detroit. (Photo: Rebecca Cook)


Aug 11, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

There’s no denying that the last few years have been rough for Detroit. A $20 billion bankruptcy, 40 percent of the population moving away between 2000 and 2010, and the shutoff of water services to thousands of residents have all garnered the Motor City plenty of bad press and made life difficult for residents. But it’s not all doom and gloom. When it comes to urban gardening, Detroit is setting a shining example for the rest of America.

During a recent webinar hosted by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Sustainable Communities, it was revealed that since 2000 the number of urban gardens in Detroit has skyrocketed from fewer than 100 to more than 1,400. That’s made Motown an Environmental Protection Agency–endorsed model of success.

Having the green space to grow these gardens is due to the mass population exodus the city has experienced. With thousands of people departing for better job opportunities and safer neighborhoods, houses and businesses have been abandoned. “Even though the land is vacant, there still is an opportunity to create a place and to create that nexus for some sort of sense of community,” EPA community planner Jon Grosshans said during the webinar, according to Forbes.

In some areas of Detroit, those decaying structures have been bulldozed and replaced with parks, urban woodlands, and city farms. All these hubs of green activity have had a significant impact on the well-being of the population.

“Detroit’s community gardens now produce 200 tons of fresh fruits and vegetables per year, residents who work those gardens eat 2.5 more servings per day of fruits or vegetables than their neighbors, and property values near the gardens are rising by up to 20 percent,” reports Forbes.

Despite the EPA accolades, local activists hope that city government will make the process for creating gardens and green space even easier.

“Right now it’s not clear how the community can access city-owned vacant land in order to work on these projects, in order to actually prove that it makes sense for us to repurpose all the vacant land that we have in front of us,” Maggie Desantis, president of the Warren/Conner Development Coalition, said during the webinar. “That is currently one of our major obstacles.”