Farming in Detroit

Not too far from the bustling development of Midtown, another kind of development project is taking place, one that puts people and the food they eat at its center.
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Michigan Urban Farming Initiative
Photography courtesy of Michigan Urban Farming Initiative

It’s not often you find a 200-tree fruit orchard in the middle of a city, but in the North End neighborhood in Detroit, that’s exactly what you’ll see. Not too far from the bustling development of Midtown, another kind of development project is taking place, one that puts people and the food they eat at its center — literally.

It’s called an “agrihood,” and it’s a project being led by the nonprofit Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (MUFI) that includes a two-acre urban garden, the orchard, a children’s sensory garden, and soon, a community center and café. It’s touted as the country’s first sustainable urban example of the emerging development model, which positions agriculture as the centerpiece of a mixed-use development.

Tyson Gersh
Tyson Gersh // Photography courtesy Jeffry Sauger

“There are currently about 200 throughout the U.S., mostly located in rural and suburban areas,” explained Tyson Gersh, MUFI president and co-founder. “We’re doing an urban version.”

The neighborhood the three-acre project is taking place in is a mix of vacant land, occupied homes and abandoned homes, and Gersh said one of the goals is to spur residential development that doesn’t come at the cost of its current residents.

MUFI Volunteers
North End Detroit residents Pinky and Orlando Jones volunteer to plant and harvest crops at the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative. // Photography courtesy of Jeffry Sauger

Annually, the urban garden provides fresh, free produce to about 2,000 households within 2 square miles of the farm, and Gersh said since its first growing season in 2012, the demand has increased exponentially each year. “We try and make it easy. Anyone can come and tell us what they want, and we let them take as much as they want,” Gersh said, and everything that’s distributed is harvested entirely by volunteers.

More than 300 vegetable varieties are grown on the farm, and over 50,000 pounds of free produce has been distributed to residents, area churches and food pantries over the years. Gersh said exciting new projects are underway, including the restoration of a long-vacant home into student intern housing and a two-bedroom shipping container home.

For more information on the farm and MUFI, visit miufi.org

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