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Innovative ‘Agrihood’ Project Helping to Feed, Revitalize Detroit

Image credit: Michigan Urban Farming Initiative

Community initiatives constitute a crucial component of the transformation taking place in Detroit, which has seen its fair share of difficulties following deindustrialization. And the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (MUFI) is one of them. The all-volunteer non-profit based in Detroit’s North End neighborhood is using agriculture as a platform to promote education, sustainability and community in an effort to empower urban communities, address the social problems facing Detroit and develop a broader model for redevelopment for other urban communities.

MUFI’s primary focus has been on the development of a two-square-block area in Detroit’s North End, which is being positioned as an epicenter of urban agriculture. The space is heavily themed by “adaptive reuse of the built environment,” in which it hopes to demonstrate everything from best practices for sustainable urban agriculture and effective strategies for increasing food security to cost-competitive and scalable models for blight deconstruction and innovation in blue and green infrastructure.

The non-profit recently launched a crowdfunding campaign to help convert a vacant three-story apartment complex into a 3,200-square-foot community resource center with gathering space for education programs and training opportunities, as well as two commercial kitchens and a healthy food café. MUFI’s campus currently includes a 2-acre urban garden, a 200-tree fruit orchard, a sensory garden and a water-harvesting cistern. Over the past four growing seasons, the project has provided more than 50,000 lbs. of mostly free produce to more than 2,000 local households, food pantries, churches and businesses in the area.

“First and foremost, [our hope] is to show proof of concept that the agrihood model can in fact work, and work very well, in an urban setting,” Tyson Gersh, MUFI’s co-founder and president, told Civil Eats earlier this year. “In urban environments, there’s such a premium on land that green space sometimes gets put on the backburner.”

In addition to elevating food security and creating a sense of community, agrihoods have the potential to increase property value too.

“There’s an impact on how the land uses interact with each other, where properties adjacent to green infrastructure are more valuable, more desirable and can bring about a higher degree of investment,” he added.

While revitalization of a blighted area can create mixed results, including gentrification — which could ultimately price current residents out — Gersh, who lives in the neighborhood himself, has expressed his commitment to supporting residents through affordable housing initiatives, subsidizing and home-repair programs.

'Global auto parts supplier BorgWarner was the first to give to the campaign, donating a sum of $10,000. If the $50,000 funding goal is met by April 2, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) will provide a matching grant with funds from MEDC’s Public Spaces Community Places program. The Patronicity campaign was jus short of the $35,000 mark as of press time.

“Through the all-volunteer efforts at MUFI, vacant land is producing fruits and vegetables. Now, in an area with fresh food options, a vacant building will be refurbished to teach the importance of nutrition and serve healthy food in its café,” said Daniel Paterra, VP of Enterprise Sustainability and Reliability for BorgWarner. "We encourage other companies and individuals to support their community through this effective program.”

The MUFI agrihood project will be a featured component of Sustainable Brands ‘17 Detroit — May 22-25. 


Libby MacCarthy is an Editorial Assistant at Sustainable Brands, based in Maine and France. She is a former urban planner specializing in sustainable cities, and an urban farming and film photography enthusiast. She holds a BA in Environment, Society and… [Read more about Libby MacCarthy]