Urban Roots: Community Gardens Making a New Detroit

| 6/6/2011 11:31:40 AM

Detroit, Mich., was once a booming metropolitan center, largely due to the major car companies that were headquartered in the city. urban rootsAfter these companies left, the city saw the rise of vacant lots and the rapid loss of available jobs. A new movement has taken over the city: Community gardens have begun to fill the empty lots, and urban farming entrepreneurs have started a local food economy to respond to the city's growing food deserts. Urban Roots is a new documentary which shows the history, current processes and hopeful future (along with its potential roadblocks) for the thriving urban agriculture that has blossomed in Detroit. Leila Conners, Urban Roots filmmaker, answered a few questions about the film and its representation of the local foods movement that is springing up in cities across the U.S.

What made you decide to focus on the projects in Detroit? 

The film, Urban Roots, emerged from Detroit because urban farming has taken hold in that city for many reasons. First, the city has more vacant lots than any other American city, so there is a lot of land available for farming. Second, due to the collapse of the US car industry, Detroit has lost jobs over the last 3 decades, therefore entrepreneurial growth around urban farming and a local food economy has arisen to fill the need for jobs and to create a viable, local economy. Urban farming is not just happening in Detroit, it is happening all over the country and all over the world. We focused on Detroit as it shows how people can heal a city recovering from the collapse of the industrial era. 

How do you see the Detroit model spreading into other cities? Are there certain steps or recommendations you can make for people interested in doing these same processes?  

I wouldn't’t call it the “Detroit model.” What is happening around the country, spontaneously, is a response to the end of the industrial era. There is a drive to create a new food system that is not so centralized as the current food system is unable to provide, healthy, fresh, organic food to many people in this country. Food deserts are everywhere, and many people only have access to highly processed, unhealthy food. Urban farming is emerging as communities wake up and realize that they can do better growing food for themselves. If people want to start creating a local food economy, and start helping create a community that can share healthy, fresh, organic food…the best advice is to start a garden, start a small farm. Cooperate with your neighbors, use your front lawns, your back lawns, your roofs, your window sills.

Has there been any advancement in city policy since the making of the film? What is the current status or focus around the need for changes to the ordinances and zoning in order to make urban agriculture legal and more feasible? 

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