Detroit ‘s organic scene isn’t much to talk about, or is it?
What do you get when you combine an abandoned house with a vacant lot? An “agrihood!”
Never heard of it? Well, you’re not alone, but this concept has become so popular, it’s even made its way into current American slang. While you may not have heard of it yet, agrihoods really are the newest trend in suburban and semi-rural areas.
Places like Northern California, Virginia, Vermont, Boise, Idaho, and even Metro Atlanta are trailblazers when it comes to these newest planned communities.
The upper-middle class residents are leaving behind their city homes in droves to relocate to these agrihoods, which are essentially centered around working farms and/or spacious community gardens. Instead of miles of luscious green golf courses or community pools or tennis courts, the agrihood offers a unique “farm-to-fork” community in a variety of settings.
If seclusion is more your style, you can opt for a rural agrihood. But if you can’t completely ignore your city genes, some agrihoods offer a more urban feel, like The Cannery, a 100-acre redevelopment project just outside downtown Davis, California (1).
This growing community, west of Sacramento, is in some of the richest agricultural land in the country. Would-be residents are promised such idyllic concepts as “make meals with vegetables you picked today” and “walk to the store that sells fruits grown locally.” (2)
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While residents of an agrihood get to rebuild their lives in an almost utopian-like community, these non-traditional farming groups can also help to rebuild a buzzing city. The beleaguered city of Detroit is a perfect example.
Once thriving automotive community, Detroit now resembles a decrepit ghost town. But thanks to the non-profit organization, Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (MUFI), a two-square-block area in Detroit’s rundown North End is being redeveloped as the epicenter of what will no-doubt become a flourishing urban agricultural community.
The MUFI, which was started by University of Michigan students from both the Ann Arbor and Dearborn campuses, aspires to exemplify “everything from best practices for sustainable urban agriculture, effective strategies for increasing food security, cost-competitive and scalable models for blight deconstruction, and Innovation in Blue & Green infrastructure.” (3)
Planners of the agrihood also hope to “promote education, sustainability, and community in an effort to empower urban communities, solve many social problems facing Detroit, and potentially develop a broader model for redevelopment for other urban communities.” (4)
The focal point of the project will be a 3,200-square-foot apartment complex located at 7432 Brush Street. Amazingly, MUFI bought the property in 2011 for just over $5,000 and plans to transform the ramshackled, vacant three-story building into a community resource center that features a “for-profit in-house café, serving nutritious, hyper-local grub.” (5)
On another abandoned lot across the street, MUFI has already created a 2-acre farm that has to date harvested about 50,000 pounds of 500 different varieties of organic produce. The farm also grows 200 fruit trees that, with the bounty of fresh produce, feed close to 80 percent of the 2000 plus households, food pantries and churches in the area (6). And the best part is that all of this fresh produce is completely free to community residents.
An Organic Detroit
Not only is the agrihood concept organic, but all of the fresh produce that comes out Detroit’s agrihood is 100 percent pesticide and GMO-free. It is the perfect solution for people who simply don’t want to deal with the growing number of “Frakenfoods” in our food sources and the endless array of negative health effects they inevitably cause (7).
For people who believe in “community first,” an agrihood like the one in Detroit allows them to create a viable life for themselves with other like-minded people while still keeping ties to the perks of a rural lifestyle.
According to MUFI co-founder and president, Tyson Gersh, “Over the last four years, we’ve grown from an urban garden that provides fresh produce for our residents to a diverse, agricultural campus that has helped sustain the neighborhood, attracted new residents and area investment.” He adds, “We’ve seen an overwhelming demand from people who want to live in view of our farm.
This is part of a larger trend occurring across the country in which people are redefining what life in the urban environment looks like. We provide a unique offering and attraction to people who want to live in interesting spaces with a mix of residential, commercial, transit, and agriculture.” (8)
And potential residents aren’t the only ones getting behind the thriving agrihood concept. General Motors (GM), Herman Miller (Michigan-based furniture maker), as well as Green Standards (Toronto-based environmental firm) are all working together to ensure any unwanted office furniture and supplies are repurposed, saving them from becoming unnecessary landfill. They will also completely furnish the proposed community center.
To date, the MUFI has united over 8,000 volunteers worldwide who have donated over 80,000 working hours to see the Brush Street project and others within the agrihood come to life. For example, volunteers, backed by GM, are responsible for spearheading the shipping container project that sees old shipping containers converted into 320-square feet of living space that actually includes two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a bathroom. The repurposed 40-foot-long corrugated steel boxes will become the country’s first multifamily housing complex built entirely from retired shipping containers (9).
Another project in the works is the abandoned building retention-pond concept. Essentially, the basements in old, rundown and long-abandoned homes will be converted into underground storm-water cisterns. These “BaseTerns” will hold the runoff water from heavy rainstorms until the risk of sewer backup and localized flooding has passed. The aboveground structures on these abandoned lots will be demolished, leaving only the “cellar-turned-cistern.”
Then, a community garden irrigated with this reclaimed rainwater can be built in place of the old structure, thus creating the base concept for the argihood (10). Not only is it a win-win situation for everyone involved, but it also goes a long way to solving many of the issues facing us, like global warming and un-sustained farming.
Detroit’s organic argihood is just one of many other communities sprouting up across the country that offer residents clean, wholesome food coupled with a community-based lifestyle that costs them less or the same as a traditional suburban neighborhood, but with many more perks (11).