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Ashley Atkinson is Co-Director at Keep Growing Detroit and member of the Detroit Food Policy Council.
If you've ever watched the movie Roger & Me by Michael Moore, you've seen where I grew up. In the 1980s, Flint, Michigan, experienced a huge transformation—tremendous job loss, a factory shuttered, schools closed and kids bused elsewhere, neighbors moving away by the dozens.
During my formative years, I witnessed my city in a tailspin of economic and social decline. And it forged a deep desire to create more stability in my neighborhood. I started by repurposing vacant land as flower beds, vegetable gardens and community parks. Along the way, I learned that growing food together could not only sustain us, it could rebuild community.
That was the genesis of Keep Growing Detroit, which promotes a food sovereign city, where residents within the city's limits grow the majority of fruits and vegetables that Detroiters consume. Our strategic approach starts with engaging people and helping them grow food wherever they are. To date, our Garden Resource Program has fostered nearly 1,500 family, community, school and market gardens. Many of these plots sprang up amidst Detroit's abandoned homes and vacant lots.
Not only is urban agriculture delivering fresh and healthy food to city residents, it has also become a powerful tool for galvanizing community action and creating independent businesses.
In Detroit city gardens, about 90% of the food produced—some 200 tons of produce—remains at the household or community level. The other 10% is sold through our growers' cooperative, at one of three weekly farmers markets, or to about 20 restaurants throughout the city. That’s our pipeline for changing Detroit's access to healthy food at affordable rates.