Detroit has earned its notorious title as one of the most dangerous cities in the U.S. due to a struggling automotive industry, increasingly high unemployment, poverty, race issues, vacant houses, high crime rates and decreased public services. Places where houses, factories and schools were once thriving are left abandoned because only half of the city’s original population remains. In the last fifty years, one of the wealthiest cities in America has transformed into one of the most economically and socially challenged. Where residents once had major supermarkets and affordable, healthy dining, now liquor stores sell groceries from behind bullet-proof glass and fast food restaurants, are rampant. However, amidst all this negativity, where the press hangs on every story, the city and its residents have surprisingly emerged with their own solution.With the destruction of so many abandoned homes, nature has taken over and the city is ‘greening’ from within.
Satellite images speak for themselves, more than one third of the city has become green again just as it was before the industrial era. This new landscape is creating opportunities and hope for the city and its residents. Land that was used for farming a century ago has again been cultivated, this time by the urban farmer. The urban farmer turns out, whether out of necessity or not, to have a right to exist. Vacant lots in the heart of the city are being returned to fertile land. Some harvest the crops for their own use, some share with the neighbors or community, while others sell their produce at the market. For instance the bee population, almost extinct in America, is flourishing in Detroit. The extensive variety of native flowers on the vacant lots and the lack of pesticides make Detroit’s unique environment perfect for a very pure honey production. In such an impoverished urban environment, it is refreshing to see such ingenuity. This is an image of the Unites States that is rarely shown.
Grown in Detroit focuses on the urban gardening efforts managed by a public school of 300, mainly african-american, pregnant and parenting teenagers. In Detroit alone, there are annually more than 3,000 pregnant teenagers who drop out of high school. This school is one of three located in the United States. As part of the curriculum, the girls are taught agricultural skills on the school’s own farm located behind the school building what used to be the playground. The young mothers, often still children themselves, are learning by farming to become more independent women and knowledgeable about the importance of nutritional foods. Many of them start out disliking the often physically hard work on the farm but this aversion disappears as they see their crops growing and being sold for profit. “Back to the roots”, a simple yet effective solution for a city that has to start all over again and perhaps a lesson to be learned for the rest of the world.