Urban Farming as a solution to youth hunger - Joseph Ziegelman and Katie Winn

Context

In 1981 Michigan the RTFA (Right to Farm Act). This act allocated certain land to be protected for farming purposes. However, this did not specify whether or not Urban Farms would also be protected. Since Urban Farming involves only gardening and crops, few townships actually regulate such agriculture. Therefore, we felt we could expand and make clear the sections of the RTFA to include Urban Farming in the city of Detroit.

 

This proposal will make a difference by educating students of all ages about important nutritional values of healthy eating and how properly to make agriculture flourish in a dying city with a large food desert. In the state of Michigan more than 48% of students are eligible for reduced price lunch, meaning that they live in 185% poverty, or $44,000 yearly household income for a home of four[11]. Additionally, it will provide more job opportunities for students suffering from the lack of a highly rated education that may put them in a position that makes finding work extremely difficult.

 

 

With a deep-seated interest in the hungry and what caused such severe hunger among low income households, this course allowed us the opportunity to take a deep dive into the issue. After researching hunger specific to the state of Michigan, we had the opportunity to educate ourselves on the severity of the problem here. Therefore, we knew a proposal such as ours was imminent and necessary.

Volunteering at food gatherers made a significant influence in the way we thought about our proposal. Not only did we volunteer in the Community Kitchen which gave us the opportunity to interact directly with the hungry, but we also worked at the Headquarters. At headquarters, we mostly sorted food for the hungry, where we learned how much food is wasted by supermarkets, and how to properly reallocate those resources towards the hungry. While at the Kitchen, we understood the impact that our time at headquarters really had. It also helped us see face to face the threat of hunger in Washtenaw County, making the issue throughout Michigan even a scarier thought in the forefront our minds.

Media Artifact Article

The United States of America is known as the land of opportunity, but this description does not paint an accurate portrayal of the millions of men, women, and children who go to bed not getting the correct nutrients in their diet because they live in a food desert. Food deserts are all over the country, but you might drive by them without even noticing what they are. What exactly is a food desert you might ask? According to the United States Department of Agriculture:

Food deserts are defined as urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. Instead of supermarkets and grocery stores, these communities may have no food access or are served only by fast food restaurants and convenience stores that offer few healthy, affordable food options. The lack of access contributes to a poor diet and can lead to higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease. [1]

Many Americans live in poverty stricken areas that are food deserts. This is not by choice but is due to low income. Therefore, they cannot afford to go to the grocery store to get “healthy” food. According to The Conservation Fund, 23 million Americans live in “food deserts” [2] The state of Michigan also faces the same problem as the rest of the nation. While Michigan has 250 farmers markets, the people who live in poorer more rural communities do not have access to these farmers markets.  There is often a lack of fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy being sold in the local facilities. Also the residents of these neighborhoods are often unaware of the affordable healthy food that is available in their own neighborhoods. [2]

    In proposing a solution to the food deserts that are located in Detroit, I believe that there is a need for urban gardens/farm(s). I first saw an urban garden while I was driving in Chicago a few years ago as there are many food deserts throughout Chicago, especially on the south side. Seeing urban gardens and farms in Chicago made me become interested in and curious about what exactly urban gardening/ farming is.  Taking Chicago as an example, as a student at the University of Michigan I thought that it would be a good idea to utilize Detroit as a hub for urban farming and gardening. After touring the Food Gatherers facility, a nonprofit in Ann Arbor which seeks to alleviate hunger in the Washtenaw County area, Graham, a full time volunteer, stated “Detroit can benefit from, as well as drastically fails to provide, opportunities to obtain  nutritious options for the hungry, and therefore, creating urban gardens in the city can only help to minimize the problem.” There are already many urban gardens and “greening” initiatives throughout the city.  However, these gardens do not fulfill the needs of all of the residents of Detroit. Many people in Detroit are food insecure, impoverished, and live in food deserts where they do not have access to healthy food. In addition, the unemployment rate in Detroit is 11.50% as of September 2015 and people are leaving Detroit because of the lack of job opportunity [3].

I propose that we utilize the structure of Detroit to create large urban farms. Specifically, I propose turning Detroit's abandoned landscape into a farming initiative which takes the existing structures and turns them into farms. Each building can be dedicated to a certain crop or multiple crops, while some of the buildings can be turned into educational facilities to teach people how to farm. By keeping the original structure I would not be demolishing the “look” of Detroit,  nor would I be changing the feel of Detroit. Taking the classic farm, and updating it to look more modern, would bring the farm into the 21st century The modern farm might no longer have to be on open field in the Midwest, but in the abandoned buildings and lots all over the city, and possibly the country.  By doing this, Detriot would become a more green place, and therefore healthier to live in for the residents and better for the environment. This would also give people who are poor the opportunity to work and gain a steady income by introducing a new job source into the community. If buildings are not structurally sound then I would demolish them and make them into gardens or parks by planting trees and grass, which would help beautify the city. This would allow Detroit to flourish once again, because it would create jobs and provide food for a more healthy diet.

 

https://apps.ams.usda.gov/fooddeserts/fooddeserts.aspx [1]

http://www.conservationfund.org/projects/tackling-food-deserts-in-michigan [2]

https://ycharts.com/indicators/detroit_mi_unemployment_rate [3]

 

Consultations

Talk directly with at least 3 real live people who have special knowledge about this topic or the impact your proposal would have, and summarize their comments. These may include people appearing in your media artifact (video, podcast, etc.).

CONSULTATION 1:

Our first consultation was with Scott Ruback, one of the head volunteers at the community kitchen run by food Gatherers. As a citizen devoted to feedings the hungry, Scott expressed his many opinions on agriculture and farming in Michigan. After directing us towards a documentary titled “Farming Detroit.” This documentary addresses some of the already existing farming that is done in detroit to outweigh the high level of food insecurity. Scott agreed that Urban Farming could only further help large scale  food dessert that haunts the state of Michigan. Scott also suggested we incorporate tactics that are being used and exemplified in the documentary.

Scott Ruback: Scott@foodgatherers.org

CONSULTATION 2: 

Our second consultation was with an Ann Arbor resident. Not only a homeowner but also has three kids who attend the local public schools in Ann Arbor. Joey Lechtner, 47,  opposed our proposal for a variety of reasons. As someone who volunteers constantly in the state of Michigan, particularly in Washtenaw County, he feels there are better ways to help the needy and avoid the additional taxes and costs that will be imposed upon them. As volunteering is considered just that volunteering, Joey feels as though putting the cost on Michigan residents negates the concept of volunteering to feed those in need.

 

CONSULTATION 3:

The final consultation was with Ben, one of the members of the Chicago Lights Organization who works specifically with their Urban Farm. Ben explained the difficulty of maintaining an Urban Farm but emphasized that  its’ benefits outweigh the difficulty. Ben has seen this Urban Farm strengthen the local community, while adding greenery to the city. Ben feels as though engaging in agriculture in the city is good for the body and mind and helps the youth understand how to cultivate and harvest crops, while also helping to establish healthy eating among those who cannot typically afford healthy options.  

bjaffe@chicagolight.org

 

Prospectus:

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One large issue Detroit faces is the large portion of land that has been left abandoned or is overall underdeveloped. In order to mediate that problem, our goal is to redevelop some locations into food-producing plots, with the potential to become a valuable asset to various communities. These food-producing plots, or urban farms, would help drive down the unemployment rate in Detroit, which is currently almost twice as high as the unemployment rate in the entire state of Michigan (10.2% vs. 5.4%)[1]. Urban areas have particular difficulty providing consistent access to nutritious food and fresh produce for the under privileged population. Such circumstances are particularly acute in low-income neighborhoods, where people may not have access to transportation preventing them from finding healthy food choices. Local urban gardens and farms provide a source of fresh, affordable produce available to the whole community. 

 

Another concern is that people are disconnected from their food and where it comes from. We intend to provide ongoing educational opportunities for the community, to teach them about the growing and harvesting of produce, as well as about the nutritional value. We want the Detroit population to develop a certain consciousness about where their food comes from and their role in the process.  This education can also be implemented in local schools, so children will understand the benefits starting at a young age. For example, schools can take their students to go visit urban gardens in Detroit in order to learn about nutrition and proper diet. By cultivating a more positive attitude toward produce and making it more accessible, we hope to help reduce childhood obesity, and help fight hunger throughout the community.


[1] Google unemployment rates

Potential Solutions:

SOLUTION 1:

Our first solution is to utilize the structure of Detroit to create large urban farms. Specifically, we turn Detroit's abandoned landscape into a farming initiative which takes the existing structures and turns them into farms. Each building can be dedicated to a certain crop or multiple crops, while some of the buildings can be turned into educational facilities to teach people how to farm. By keeping the original structure we would not be demolishing the “look” of Detroit,  nor would we be changing the feel of Detroit.

 

SOLUTION 2:

Another potential solution that will have the ability to further progress the benefits of our first solution lies in the basis of education. "Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach him to fish and he will eat for life." By viewing urban farming and gardening as an educational opportunity we are hoping to provide a long term solution to the problem of food insecurity in urban areas. When people develop new skills they become actively engaged in the learning process. Through a combination of workshops and fieldwork, we hope to educate the citizen farmers and provide hands-on experience necessary for successful food production.

 

SOLUTION 3:

Lastly, we suggest the creation of jobs on agricultural sites in Detroit. Michiganders are unemployed or have low wage jobs. Creating a new job source through community farming would tackle the issue of unemployment. These jobs will not only act as educational opportunities for the less fortunate to teach themselves about healthy food options while also making them a reality, but will also help provide resources and monetary value to the pockets of the needy in order to provide healthy food options for themselves and their families.

  Reaction or advice from a Topic Coordinator:

After reading the various comments left by our Topic Coordinator, Nicole, we decided to narrow down the broad spectrum of potential benefits Urban Farms can provide for the city of Detroit. Rather than focus on the health benefits of local agriculture, we chose to focus on feeding the hungry and also creating jobs for those in need. Those are two of the biggest issues facing the state of Michigan and we feel as though narrowing down our proposal to benefit those in need would be the most beneficial way to utilize Urban Farms.

 

Research process:

The research process began following a trip to Chicago in which we observed the variety of Urban Farms in the south side city. Intrigued by what we witnessed, we began to research other locations of Urban farms throughout the country, and wondered if Detroit had any, and could benefit from such a project. The next step was to understand what else was being done in the State of Michigan to fight hunger and provide nutritious food options in low income communities. This is what led us to volunteer at food gatherers, where we began to understand the various efforts being made to provide food to the hungry and process involved in making it possible. Originally, we felt the government would have to provide the sole resources to make this opportunity happen, however we learned that by outsourcing to a private company, we would have the ability to also help the needy by providing jobs and education through these Urban Farms. Overall, after consulting with food gatherers, michigan residents, and one of the Urban Farms located in Chicago, we were impressed and intrigued by the benefits this opportunity can provide to the State of Michigan.

 

Author contributions:

Ordinarily in group projects, splitting the work up by section can be the easiest form of working together and getting everything done efficiently. However, due to the ample amount of time we were able to spend together Katie and Joey had the opportunity to research, write and re-write, as well as explore opportunities that made the proposal fully come together. It would be impossible to specifically list which one of us wrote which section, as we can genuinely agree it was a combined and successful group effort. However, Joey deserves credit for the initial discovery of the potential benefits of Urban Farming, as he brought it to Katie’s attention, with some research already completed to contribute towards the project. Additionally, it was Joey’s deep-seated interest in the hungry that led to the creation of this proposal


 

===FORMAL PROPOSAL=== Preambulatory clauses

WHEREAS....The United States of America does not paint an accurate portrayal of the millions of men, women, and children who go to bed not getting the correct nutrients in their diet because they live in a food desert. Michigan in particular suffers from these food deserts and thousands of families are forced to go to bed hungry every night.

WHEREAS....Many Americans live in poverty stricken areas that are food deserts. This is not by choice but is due to low income. Impoverished individuals cannot afford to go to the grocery store to get “healthy” food. According to The Conservation Fund, 23 million Americans live in “food deserts” [2] The state of Michigan also faces the same problem as the rest of the nation. The high level of unemployment in Michigan is immediate need of assistance.

WHEREAS....Michigan has 250 farmers markets, the people who live in poorer, more rural communities do not have access to these farmers markets nor can afford the produce sold at these markets.  There is often a lack of fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy being sold in their local facilities. The residents of these neighborhoods are also often unaware of the affordable healthy food that is available in their own neighborhoods. [2] These residents deserve the right to healthy options for themselves and their families.

Operative clauses

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED....

1.Utilize the structure of Detroit to create large urban farms. Specifically, we would turn Detroit's abandoned landscape into a farming initiative which takes the existing structures and turns them into farms. Each building can be dedicated to a certain crop or multiple crops, while some of the buildings can be turned into educational facilities to teach people how to farm. By keeping the original structure, we would not be demolishing the “look” of Detroit, nor would we be changing the feel of Detroit

2.Further progress the benefits of our first solution lies in education. "Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach him to fish and he will eat for life." By viewing urban farming and gardening as an educational opportunity we are hoping to provide a long term solution to the problem of food insecurity in urban areas. When people develop new skills they become actively engaged in the learning process. Through a combination of workshops and fieldwork, we hope to educate the citizen farmers and provide hands-on experience necessary for successful food production.

3.Create jobs on agricultural sites in Detroit. Michiganders are unemployed or have low wage jobs. Creating a new job source through community farming would tackle the issue of unemployment. These jobs will not only act as educational opportunities for the less fortunate to teach themselves about healthy food options while also making them a reality, but will also help provide resources and monetary value to the pockets of the needy in order to provide healthy food options for themselves and their families.

Counter-arguments:

1.The project could take away jobs from farmers who have been farming in the area for generations. The issue of what happens to the surplus of food would need to be addressed. Therefore, it could be argued that the jobs we create are only displacing other jobs that currently exist and will not make a significant impact on the state of Michigan’s unemployment.

2.The urban farm could create an unfair competitive advantage if it became successful. More people would possibly want urban grown produce compared to farm grown.  In addition to displacing the jobs of current farmers, the tax cuts that this proposal would create for the urban farms in Detroit would allow for lower prices, further harming the farmers who are already doing the work in the area. This likely will add to the surplus of food with a high loss of income.

3.Land in Detroit could become more expensive for residents to live in and this would cause people to have to leave their homes. The Urban Farms would lead to an increase in taxes for those living in the State of Michigan. Additionally, if these farms help to revitalize the city than the area may become more expensive overall. In turn this would take the hungry we are trying to feed and displace them from their homes

4.The weather could influence the yield of the crop. The state of Michigan is not known for great weather. Therefore, it could be said that the Urban Farms will not thrive and therefore not be beneficial in any way, particularly in the Winter months.

Costs and funding:

In thinking about the business plan for urban farming, I will also assess the risks and pricing of the products and tools one would need to create an urban farm. The plan must also include several different factors such as the actual pricing of the food items, acceptance of food stamps, how records will be kept, employee salaries, and lastly how the farm would be financed.  For example, some urban farms in Detroit received a $10,000 grant to help grow their business. Also, the city of Detroit allows residents to get an easy start at urban farming with the sale of side lots for only $100 dollars through the Land Bank.  [8]

Once the business plan is settled and agreed upon the next step is to find out the pricing of the different parts of the farm. One part of the farm is the cost of seeds. For example, Heirloom Rutgers tomato seeds cost $17.96 per ¼ pound, which are more costly than Bloomsdale spinach seeds at $6.26 per ¼ pound. While Heirloom Copenhagen market cabbage seeds cost $8.06 per ¼ pound, Heirloom scarlet Nantes carrot seeds start at $13.46 per ¼ pound. [10]  In addition to seed costs, the costs of raised beds and hydroponics are also important. Finally, one must note that:

“Urban farms come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Almost all, however, share some basic startup costs. Assuming a plot of land of at least half an acre, a list of such costs would likely include: Rototiller ($4,500): a motorized plow that uses rotating tines or blades to cultivate the soil and get the land ready for planting. This is the only mechanized equipment necessary. Coolers ($4,000): Two upright produce coolers used to store fresh vegetables and prevent spoilage. Other equipment ($1,000): garden seeder, wheel hoe, standard-issue tools, harvesting bins, hoses, and sprinklers. Sales & Marketing ($500): farmers market tables, display baskets, digital scale, signage. This would all total to be $10,000.” [9]

After the pricing is resolved, a contained system must be created so no pollutants affect the soil, air, water and climate of the farm. There are also many questions that have to be answered around what type of farm it will be. Questions such as: is there going to be rooftop farming? is the food going to be organic? Should it be organic? How is crop rotation going to affect the soil fertility? Will there be composting?  One also have to make sure that if pesticides are used that they are regulated properly. One must also consider several other issues such as site security, fencing, rainwater harvesting and affordable supplies. The last consideration is whether the farm is going to be a privately owned farm or if it is going to be owned by the community or shareholders. I believe this is a choice for the people of Detroit. The pros of privatization of the farms are that there is improved efficiency, there is a lack of political interference, shareholders make money and there increased competition. The cons of privatization are that it creates a  natural monopoly, the government loses out on potential dividends and there is a problem of regulating private monopolies. [5]

Based on several pros and cons, I still think that developing an urban farm program in Detroit is very feasible.  

 

 

References:

https://apps.ams.usda.gov/fooddeserts/fooddeserts.aspx [1]

 

http://www.conservationfund.org/projects/tackling-food-deserts-in-michigan [2]

http://www.miufi.org [3]

 

http://www.nebeginningfarmers.org/resources/guides/urban-farming/ [4]

 

http://www.economicshelp.org/blog/501/economics/advantages-of-privatisation/ [5]

 

https://ycharts.com/indicators/detroit_mi_unemployment_rate [6]

http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/garden-planning/how-to-start-an-urban-farm-ze0z1408zhou.aspx  [7]

 

http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/239844 [8]

 

http://www.cityfarmer.info/2009/11/24/overview-of-urban-farming-by-green-for-all/ [9]

 

http://www.americanmeadows.com/vegetables-seeds/bulk-vegetable-seeds [10]

 

http://www.hungerfreesummer.org/child-hunger-michigan

[11]

 



 

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