Urban Agriculture: Detroit



By: Lydia Whitbeck

Urban agriculture is the practice of cultivating, processing, and distributing food in or around a town or city. It can be used to meet a community’s need for jobs, a use for vacant lots, educational opportunities, or access to fresh produce. The current local food movement stemmed from shifting farm policy in the 1970s when Nixon promised to cut food prices. He made good on his promise by cutting the farmers’ federal dollars. This led to big business farms purchasing smaller farms which turned into mega farms that mass produced commodity items such as soy and corn. The large influx of corn and soy into the economy led to America’s diet shift from a variety of vegetables to a market of processed soy and corn goods. The shift of America’s grocery stores created food deserts: areas where fresh produce was not readily available to the community members at a reasonable price. These deserts became common in inner city areas where child obesity rates were skyrocketing and family diets were dependent on what the local convenience store had in stock. The realization of this growing issue led to the idea to have these communities grow their own food and urban agriculture was born as we know it today.

Despite these recent realizations, urban agriculture has been utilized many a time in history, especially in Detroit to bring the city out of economic depressions and stressful times. Urban agriculture began in the 1700s when Detroit was a French outpost. The settlers at this time utilized ribbon farming along the Detroit River to allow residents to farm and grow food for their families and communities. Later, in 1893, an economic depression struck the United States. To combat the increasing unemployment rate in Detroit, the mayor started Pingree’s Potato Patches: a movement that turned vacant lots into gardens,

Pingree’s Potato patches in Detroit during the 1893 economic depression.

providing both jobs and food. A similar program was created in 1931 during the Great Depression called Thrift Gardens which was a top-down approached project by the government. Similar initiatives were created during World War I, the Great Migration, and today’s local food movement.

 

Currently, there are 70,000 unemployed individuals in Detroit. Of those 70,000, 30,000 could pass the GED exam. This means there are 40,000 people that need jobs. This is where urban agriculture comes in by providing jobs. Not only will it provide work, but it also creates community centers, educational opportunities for kids and adults, and a fresh supply of produce to eat and sell. Urban farms have the potential to level the playing field between socioeconomic groups in an area. Wealthy neighborhoods also do not have immediate access to healthy foods, but they have the transportation to easily gain access. These neighborhoods have access to community and education centers that inner city neighborhoods often lack. Urban agriculture can create these spaces for a community, therefore leveling out some of the disparities. Community gardens have the potential to transform an otherwise unused vacant area to a beneficial space for the community that lives there.

Today there are more than 1,300 community gardens within city limits. Non-profits such as Keep Growing Detroit, Greening Detroit, and The Michigan Urban Farming Initiative are working to create more green space and to create a food sovereign city. They work to meet these goals by providing farming education opportunities throughout the city, repurposing vacant land, increasing bike paths, working to foster communities and developing a strategy to meet the food needs of the city.

To learn more about urban agriculture in Detroit today, check out any of the links listed below. There are many opportunities to volunteer and donate to the urban farming movement in Detroit. There are also events throughout Detroit that offer urban farm tours via bike and bus every couple of months. Check out our events page for the next urban farm tour event!

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Composting Basics: by Ken Freestone

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Materials provided by Ken Freestone, Master Composter
www.greenmichigan.org
ken@greenmichigan.org
Composting
Decomposer organisms work best with as varied a diet as you can feed them. The ingredients are all around us. Almost anything that once lived is a candidate for the compost, so try for lots of variety to get a good mix of textures and plant nutrients. In composting jargon, woody materials that are high in carbon (autumn leaves, paper, peat moss, sawdust, cornstalks, hay and straw, etc.) are called “brown” ingredients. Materials like garden refuse, manure, tea and coffee grounds, feathers, hair, and food scraps are high in nitrogen, or “green.” Some materials can actually be both: fresh grass clippings are “green,” for example, but dried grass is “brown.”

For successful results, you can use the simple rule that compost needs to be about half “brown” and half “green” by weight. Don’t bother to weigh your ingredients, though: an estimate is fine. Composting soon becomes a matter of instinct, like the cook who bakes without a recipe. If the pile doesn’t heat up, you know there’s not enough “green” in the mix, while a smell of ammonia means it needs more “brown.”

Materials to Use
Green
• Algae
• Bone meal
• Coffee grounds
• Eggshells
• Feathers
• Flowers
• Fruit and fruit peels
• Grass clippings (fresh)
• Hair
• Manure
• Seaweed
• Tea Leaves
• Vegetables and peelings
• Weeds

Brown
• Buckwheat hulls
• Coffee filters
• Corn cobs
• Cotton/wool/silk scraps
• Grass clippings (dried)
• Hay
• Leaves (dead)
• Paper
• Peat moss
• Pine needles
• Sawdust
• Straw
• Tea bags
• Wood chips
• Wood ash

This list is far from complete. Anything organic can, in theory, be composted — some more easily than others. But common sense suggests a few exceptions. The following materials may cause problems in a backyard compost pile.

Materials to Avoid
• pet wastes can contain extremely harmful bacteria
• meat, fish, fats and dairy products are likely to smell as they rot and may attract four-footed visitors
• insect-infested or diseased plants may persist in the compost
• materials contaminated by synthetic chemicals or treated with herbicides or insecticides should never be used
• weeds with mature seeds, and plants with a persistent root system (like crabgrass, ground ivy, or daylilies), may not be killed by the heat of the compost
• leaves of rhubarb and walnut contain substances toxic to insects or other plants so most people choose not to compost them.

Water
• Your compost pile should be as damp as a wrung-out sponge — moist to the touch — but no water should come out when you squeeze a handful.
Too dry?
• You can poke holes in the pile and water it from the top with a trickling hose. Better yet, pull the pile apart and rebuild it, wetting each layer as it goes on. Very fibrous materials such as dead leaves may need to be soaked in a bucket for an hour or two.

Too wet?
• A soggy pile should be turned so that clumps of material are broken up, letting air in and water out. If the compost is absolutely soaked, you can spread the materials to dry in the sun, or scatter peat moss through the pile as you rebuild it with the drier materials in the center

Composting Tips




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Composting is one of my favorite activities. It is the “original” recycling (think about nature and the woods doing it all the time), it is something every human can do and it can be as difficult or simple as you would like to make it.

There are many good resources for composting instructions (building bins, materials to use, science, and ordinances) that will fit almost every life style. Here are a few resources.

When creating an active compost system think about these basic ideas:
What you need for composting:


Vessel

Open air   ~Spreading yard waste throughout a wooded area

Piled  ~Pile in yard or woods. Not to high, because after all you don’t see      leaves, and woody debris piled in the woods.

Fenced  ~As simple as wire fencing, pallets or other fencing material to     keep it corralled

Contained  ~Built enclosure to aid in moisture control, heat, keeping out     unwanted critters and more visually appealing for some     neighborhoods

Materials

Carbon –   ~Brown & Dry  See attached list of materials

Nitrogen –   ~Green & Moist  See attached list of materials


Air 
~To create a more active pile and to get finished compost sooner it      is important to turn materials. This also cuts down on odors by      “refreshing” the pile

Water  ~Not too wet or too dry. A good compost pile should feel like a    wrung out sponge

Heat  ~Optimal temperature is around 130° – 150°. Or dig a 10” hole in     the pile and put your hand inside. If it is steamy and warm/hot it is     probably doing well.


Microorganisms  
~They are the critters that are doing all of the work.
See attached sheet for who your best composting friends are.

Materials to Use
Green/NITROGEN  Brown/CARBON

  • Algae • Coffee filters
  • Bone meal • Corn cobs
  • Coffee grounds • Cotton/wool/silk scraps
  • Eggshells • Grass clippings (dried)
  • Feathers • Hay
  • Flowers • Leaves (dead)
  • Fruit and fruit peels • Paper/Shredded
  • Grass clippings (fresh) • Peat moss
  • Hair • Pine needles
  • Manure • Sawdust
  • Seaweed • Straw
  • Tea Leaves • Tea bags
  • Vegetables and peelings • Wood chips
  • Weeds • Wood ash

This list is far from complete. Anything organic can, in theory, be composted — some more easily than others. But common sense suggests a few exceptions. The following materials may cause problems in a backyard compost pile.
Materials to Avoid

  • pet wastes can contain extremely harmful bacteria
  • meat, fish, fats and dairy products are likely to smell as they rot and may attract four-footed visitors
  • insect-infested or diseased plants may persist in the compost
  • materials contaminated by synthetic chemicals or treated with herbicides or insecticides should never be used
  • weeds with mature seeds, and plants with a persistent root system (like crabgrass, ground ivy, or daylilies), may not be killed by the heat of the compost. !!NEVER COMPOST INVASIVE SPECIES-Purple Loosestrife, Garlic Mustard, etc.!!!
  • leaves of rhubarb and walnut contain substances toxic to insects or other plants so most people choose not to compost them.

Here are a couple of my compost bin designs along with the basic supply list for building them yourself.  If you would like us to build them for you the prices are:
New Lumber – Cedar        $200.00/delivered in West Michigan
New Cedar
Reclaimed Lumber           $100.00/delivered in West Michigan
Reclaimed4 Reclaimed2
Flipping Bin
New design turning a barrel into a compost bin! I am working with
the West Michigan Environmental Action Council on this product.
IMG_4357

Built it yourself supply list for wooden compost bins:
Compost Bin Materials list

Other resources:
MSU Extension – Soil testing kit
www.bookstore.msue.msu.edu

Testing Kit Fee Schedule-
http://www.spnl.msu.edu/_pdf/SPNL_Fee_Schedule_2013.pdf
Testing Information-
http://shop.msu.edu/product_p/bulletin-e3154.htm

     http://www.spnl.msu.edu/_pdf/Compost_Information_Sheet.pdf

MSU Extension – Questions/Answers
www.migarden.msu.edu

WMEAC – www.wmeac.org

GreenMichigan.org

www.greenmichigan.org

 

Wall Street Journal compost system testing video/Hosted on
Sierra Club website

http://tinyurl.com/ny4oaht
Wall Street Journal compost video follow up

http://tinyurl.com/25mom5g

Gardener’s supply company
http://www.gardeners.com/
Gardener’s supply company – How to choose a composter

http://tinyurl.com/dedorf

Red Worm Composting Video

http://www.redwormcomposting.com/worm-composting-videos/

Clean Air Gardening Website

     http://www.cleanairgardening.com/

Recycle/Re-purpose With a Purpose

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Recycle/Re-purpose with a Purpose

One of my favorite things to do is coach soccer to kids. I see this as a way to give back and  be a mentor for the next generation. I never thought this would expand outside my community, but this love has now reached all the way to another hemisphere and brought joy to many others.

I was talking with my great friend Denise Van Valkenburg  about a mission trip she was going on with a group called Paradise Bound  www.paradisebound.org . This group travels to Guatemala and helps in many ways, including building and helping the poor with medical needs. I was curious and asked if they play soccer in these villages you visit and found that yes, indeed they do.  If you have coached any youth sports you know that at the end of the season, you have an abundance of shirts, water bottles, and many other sporting items the kids leave behind and never reclaim. As we were talking, I realized I had a car full of soccer balls I have collected over the years and I asked if she could use any of these soccer balls for the trip? She said yes, as many as we could give.  I decided to reach out to the club I coach for, United Soccer Athletes www.united-soccer-athletes.com .  I know the hearts of the management and knew they would love to help out  if they could.  Bruce Lane and the club responded more than I ever dreamed they would by donating many bags of soccer balls.

This was a hit with the groups in Guatemala. They played soccer with the mission groups with goals made out of bamboo,  dirt/concrete fields, and in jeans and sandals. The kids  were awesome at the game beating the missionaries most of the time.

This has made me realize we can always help someone else while we are working, busy with life or having fun by collecting pop cans, needed scrap materials, or some lost and found soccer balls.  By having conversations with people and organizations we all can help in ways we never thought possible.

A great way to recycle/re-purpose soccer balls and other materials while helping others.

Haiti Foundation Against Poverty Creating a Circular Economy/Triple Bottom Line

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Gift-of-Hope-1

Haiti Foundation Against Poverty has created the first true circular economy or true triple bottom line organization. My definition of a circular economy is helping a social need (people in need), economical need (the bottom line), and the environment all at the same time.  All three aspects actually feed off each other and help of each other for a sustainable model.

Haiti Foundation Against Poverty have really figured this out and implemented it well. They have partnered with a couple of local corporations and businesses and have asked them to help with expertise in recycling, and logistics. They have also asked for the corporations and businesses scrap fabric which is extremely hard to recycle in the USA.  By taking the scrap fabric from the USA to Haiti and adding the expertise from these organizations they have created quality products of bags, dolls, and other products.  These products are then shipped back the USA to be sold. Here is the link to the store. https://squareup.com/store/hfap-gift-of-hope

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They also have a boutique in Midland MI and sell their products at the The Bridge in Holland MI.

Haiti Foundation Against Poverty is helping solve a large problem of how to deal with waste materials while helping the poorest people. They are a true shining light of what can be accomplished.

I would Encourage you to look into this organization and its great products.

Below is a Diagram showing how this can help every company and non-profit.

circular

 

Here is a video more about the Haiti Foundation Against Poverty

Car pooling – good for your pocket and the environment

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Car pooling, also known as ride-sharing, can save you big bucks on gas, wear and tear on your vehicle, oil resources and reduce all the associated nasty environmental impact associated with driving.

When you drive to work, are you alone or do you have room for other passengers? Have you ever noticed how many others around you are driving on their own too?

In the USA, single occupant commuting is around 75% according to census data.carpooling

There are millions of us who engage in solitary travel to and from work; driving billions of miles each year, spending a stack of cash on gas and pumping tons of emissions into the atmosphere.

According to the SightLine Insitute (single passenger statistics):

– A small car emits around .59 pounds of carbon dioxide per mile
– A medium car emits around 1.1 pounds of carbon dioxide per mile
– An SUV/4 wheel emits around 1.57 pounds of carbon dioxide per mile

Car pooling advantages

Save money

Just putting aside the gloom and doom aspect of the environmental impact of fossil fuels; consider even the cost saving aspect. It’s not uncommon to save a couple hundred dollars a month in transport costs by sharing a ride with someone else. In some cities, you can also save on tolls and parking if your vehicle has multiple occupants.

It’s not just the cost of gas, tolls and parking, but city driving is notorious for causing wear on vehicles – all the stopping and starting wears out engines, brakes and gearboxes, not to mention tire wear. According to the American Automobile Association, it costs an average of 26.2 cents per mile to drive a car; and that’s just gas and wear and tear combined.

De-Congests roads

According to a recent US study, “Commuting in America”:

– U.S. drivers wasted 4.2 billion hours sitting in traffic in 2005
– Traffic delays chewed through 2.9 billion gallons of fuel
– In Los Angeles, the average driver wastes 72 hours per year going nowhere.

If everyone car pooled, imagine the many hundreds of thousands of vehicles that would be off the road each day. This would lessen traffic congestion, making trips faster, cutting fuel and car maintenance costs even further. Some places even have roads with designated lanes for multiple occupant vehicles and we expect to see more of this in the years ahead.

Social/emotional

Through sharing a ride, you’ll meet other people. Our online world is steadily disconnecting people and that can be unhealthy for many folks. For some people, there’s nothing like a pep session before the daily grind and a counselling session immediately afterwards.

Also, if you find driving to work stressful, car pooling can alleviate the frustration in travelling to and from the workplace. You may even find time to carry out other tasks during the drive instead, such as preparing for meetings etc.

Flexibility through technology

In the early days of car pooling, it was fairly restrictive and it could be difficult to find people you get along with to team up to share a ride. Now many online services and apps have sprung up that provide a good choice of people to ride share with and therefore greater flexibility with your own timetable. Better online resources will offer the following matching:

Geographic –  matching departure and destination routes

Chronological – matching times of departure and arrival

Personal Preferences. – Points such as whether you wish to be a driver and/or passenger, gender preferences, smoker/non-smoker – some even provide matching for music choices.

Here’s some online car pooling resources to check out

eRideShare.com
CarPoolConnect
icarpool.com

Another great idea is to look for potential car poolers where you work. Sending out an email or working with HR to see who might be interested. Connecting coworkers that live near each other can help start a carpool or a series of carpools. Often times having someone organize and get the conversation started is all that is needed to bring upon change.

Gift a Tree This Holiday Season



Not sure what to gift the environmentalist in your life? How about planting a tree in their honor? Green Michigan.org is partnering with local organizations to offer the perfect gift this holiday season. We are planting trees in the West Michigan area in honor of the person you choose.

Here is what you get

A certificate emailed to you or the person of your choosing explaining the gift

A local native tree will be planted in the spring or the fall depending on purchase

Once tree is planted a map will be sent to you or the person you are choosing letting you know where your tree is planted.

Want a Bunch of Trees or do you have questions? Contact Angela@greenmichigan.org

 

Alternatives and cost saving to traditional wrapping paper!!

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Remember Wrapping paper is NOT recyclable.

Or at least in my area you may want to check your recycler to find out.

Each year I receive an email from my waste hauler that reads “Wrapping paper is not recyclable.” This Christmas I decided to make  an effort and keep this e-mail in mind as I went to wrap my gifts.  My goal was to find a way to wrap my gifts responsibility — for both the environment AND my pocketbook.

 Fabric

fabric

I considered using fabric to wrap gifts, and this looked like a very good option.  Fabric is recyclable and, in my area, is readily available.  I live in the part of the country that has a lot of office furniture manufactures, so buying unused fabric is inexpensive (as low as $5 for 19 yards). This seemed very reasonable, except I did not have fabric cutting scissors. I plan to keep this in mind for next year though… an investment in several pairs of quality scissors would allow me to use a more sustainable wrapping that could be reused year after year. This year, though, making a special trip out to buy more scissors just wasn’t in the cards

Other Papers

Snowflake our gifts

I thought about  wrapping paper made from soy ink and recycled paper. This sort of paper can be costly:  the amount of money I would spend for the amount of paper I would receive did not fit in my budget.

I looked at using used newspaper. I do not receive my news via newspaper (watch for another post on sustainable reading), so I would have to ask someone who receives a newspaper for their recycling. The cost would be free and it would be recycling a used product so that would two major benefits to newspaper as wrapping, but there was one big downside: newspaper does not have a “Christmas” look to the wrapped gifts. For any other holiday, newspaper (especially comics) would work, but not on Christmas.

The third option was to use craft/packaging paper. This turned out to be the best option for our family.  This paper acted just like normal wrapping paper so it was easy to cut, wrap, and tape. The look of the gifts at first were not very Christmas-like because the paper was just plain brown.  The solution was that my kids cut out white paper snowflakes and we tied Christmas color string/yarn around the packages. At first I was a little concerned about the look, but it turned out great. The kids were heavily involved to make the packaging Christmassy, and they loved every minute of it. They were also able to wrap their own gifts without much help. If you don’t like brown, they do have other colors of crafting paper available. (see above picture).

The environmental benefits:

Crafting/packaging paper is made from 100% recycling material with 50% being post-consumer. The paper is 100% recyclable. There are no inks of presses that go into making this paper.  The paper is also 100% compostable.

Cost Benefits:

For a roll of regular wrapping paper, you pay between 3-5 dollars for about 60 square feet.  If you fill your waste container with this packaging that will be another cost to just haul away to the landfill

Craft paper cost between 6-8 dollars for a roll of at least 120 square feet. The  waste cost can be zero if you decide to compost the paper

Final thought:

Using craft paper cost is much less, it is better for the environment, and your family can be more engaged with wrapping gifts. Finally, we can feel good that we support an industry that uses recyclable material.

 

Questions?

Dan Broersma

dan@greenmichigan.org