Friday, October 29, 2010

Following Up on Ferguson

Some of you saw my posts that Catherine Ferguson Academy was slated to be closed last year. Fortunately, the school remained open!

Now they're looking to collaborate with MSU, which I believe will be an exciting step forward for both the university and the academy. If anywhere could make urban planning, education, and agriculture work together, it's the area around CFA.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

An Inside Look: Erin

Hi, I'm the main writer/editor of the UAID blog, but I've never formally introduced myself. Of course, you've probably learned a lot about my interests if you've been reading my posts, but I'll share a little more background here.

In my undergraduate program, I studied elementary education, Spanish, and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, partly for the global view that gave me of social issues. I grew up in metro Detroit, and during my time as an undergrad, I had the opportunity to participate in summer fellowships in Detroit, which really jump-started my focus on the city.

Seeing and hearing about the issues in Detroit Public Schools and in the city as a whole, along with regular reading of the Detroit Free Press, gave me the background necessary for UAID's first crazy idea: an urban goat farm. My main concern has been and will continue to be Detroit's children, which is why I'm excited about projects such as soil remediation, horticultural therapy, and educational enrichment.

This fall, I'll start a master's program in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, a field I find relevant since the fastest growing population in Detroit consists of immigrants.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Hello, My Name is: Rebecca

A late introduction is better than none, or so they say. So, I would like to say a quick hi. I'm one of the co-founders of U-AID. My background is biosystems engineering with an emphasis on biomedical engineering and I'm am starting medical school in 11 days. Which sounds like an opposing path for someone interested in urban agriculture and green initiatives. But it's not. Fresh local food options and integrated green spaces in communities have significant health benefits for children and families. So that's why I'm here.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Backyard Poultry Debate on Michigan's West Side

On the west side of the mitt, in my home town of Holland, a debate on the role of backyard livestock is heating up. Chickens are one of the greatest pets a child could ever have and have economic, nutritional, and practical advantages as urban livestock. 

Currently only a few cities in Michigan allow people to keep chickens as pets. In these cases, birds are able to provide eggs daily, can fertilize and control pests in gardens and can be enjoyable family pets. The only cities in Michigan that I can find that allow chickens within city limits are Ann Arbor, Benton Harbor, Lansing, East Lansing, and Traverse City. Several of the cities require permits and most have a cap of 4-5 hens and do not allow roosters. Having no roosters mean the birds are quieter than an average dog and the eggs are sterile and 4 birds cannot become 20.

My father just had an article published in the Holland Sentinel about the shift in public and residential policy that is needed in a nature starved and agriculturally isolated environment.

This is one of the hurdles that needs to be overcome in order to encourage positive changes that democratize and decentralize the American food system. If we want to develop urban environments that are therapeutic and foster discovery and personal ownership of food production, these simple steps are vital. I would encourage individuals to enquire as to the local laws surrounding a handful of backyard hens. If they are amenable I encourage people to take advantage of them. If laws do not allow them write a letter to the editor in local newspapers and push for new coop laws.  Public perception and policy toward the keeping of a small number of reasonably contained and maintained urban chickens needs to shift in order to push Michigan towards wider sustainability and healthy living.




Friday, May 21, 2010

Introducing Myself

Hello, I am one of the newest members of the UAID blog team here and I figured I would briefly introduce myself.

I am T. Michael Kates, a graduate student at Michigan State University. I work in the Field Crops Entomology Lab. I am doing research on soybean aphid control. My work involves breeding plants that do not need to be sprayed with insecticides as frequently, lessening environmental impacts and increasing the profit margin for growers. I am also looking at ways of preserving the natural pest control services provided by insects naturally in the environment; examples include lady beetles and predatory flies.


I am not directly involved in the urban agriculture work OF UAID, but I bring my larger perspective of agriculture. My interests center around sustainable food production that include urban and rural food systems as well as educating youth on agriculture. Feel free to check out my personal blog or look at some stuff I have had published in the past.


I hope to pop in here every once in a while and discuss some of the happenings in Michigan agriculture.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


We've been quietly busy lately - I gave two workshops at Center for Advanced Studies and the Arts, a consortium I attended my senior year of high school, one for the European History class and another for the Environmental Science students. Overall, I felt the workshop was well-received and the students were interested in (or at least respectful of) the issues presented. The AP Environmental Science instructor is already very involved with Detroit agriculture - her only recommendation was that the next time I do a presentation, I bring a goat with me!

We're also still pursuing the idea of a therapy garden at the Children's Center. Currently, we're putting together a proposal for the center to look at; perhaps we'll send it to other places that serve vulnerable children as well. Once that's done, we have grant applications to do and Americorps volunteers to apply for.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Update: Therapy Garden

Not so long ago, I posted about "nature deficit disorder" and my concerns for Detroit's children. As a step toward ameliorating this problem, I've talked to a contact at the Children's Center of Wayne County about establishing a therapy garden there to be used for individual and group sessions. He liked the initial idea and will "kick it around" with someone who knows more about their buildings and grounds.

This afternoon, I met with Myung Ju, a monk/architect at the Detroit Zen Center, to discuss the requirements and costs of the type of green roof that would be necessary at the Children's Center if there isn't ground-level space available for a therapy garden. She was very helpful and encouraging, although she cautioned that with the increased weight of a green roof, re-framing is necessary in many buildings. I hope to meet with someone at the Children's Center soon to learn more about their building structure and materials so that we can better estimate costs.

I was also excited to find out that the DTE building in Detroit has the same kind of green roof that we'd like for the Children's Center - high intensity, which allows for people to walk on the roof (of course, this requires more structural work because it's heavier). She also mentioned that Chicago has multiple green roofs worth visiting. If we manage to take a trip out to Milwaukee this summer to visit Growing Power and some other organizations, a stop in Chicago may be in order.

What do you think about the idea of green therapy? Have you ever seen a green roof?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Detroit's Lead Dilemma

When everyone talks about revitalizing Detroit, right-sizing the city, and creating urban homesteads, they plan for at least some urban agriculture to fill in. UAID loves this idea and sees it as a potential solution to Detroit's food system issues. However, there are obstacles to be overcome before large scale urban agriculture becomes reality.

One obstacle that UAID is particularly interested in right now is heavy metal toxicity in the soil. Because of Detroit's industrial past, there's a lot of stuff in the soil that doesn't exist in rural environments. One heavy metal that's of special concern is lead. It's common knowledge that Superman's powers were affected by lead - turns out humans are affected too. According to the EPA, if not detected early, children with high levels of lead in their bodies can suffer from damage to the brain and nervous system, behavior and learning problems, such as hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems, and headaches. Adults are also affected, with symptoms such as reproductive problems (in both men and women), high blood pressure and hypertension, nerve disorders, memory and concentration problems, and muscle and joint pain.

Detroit's lead levels come mainly from leaded gasoline (and is therefore prevalent everywhere that lots of cars were driven, which is . . . everywhere) and lead-based paint (a problem in older houses if children live in them and eat paint chips or if the houses are demolished and the paint isn't properly managed). 3.8% of children in Detroit have lead poisoning (and since there's no real threshold where lead starts to have effects, any child with lead exposure could have some symptoms). This seems fairly low until you consider that this is three times the state average percentage and means that in a class of 25 children, at least one is likely to have lead poisoning. Remember all those things that lead poisoning did, like causing brain damage, behavior problems, and learning difficulties? Imagine trying to succeed in a school environment already behind because of lead poisoning.

Obviously, we don't want to increase levels of lead poisoning by feeding people produce contaminated with lead. However, there are many questions in this area. Here are just a few:

1. Do plants take up lead as they grow? Do they all take up the same amount? Knowing how much different kinds of plants will absorb lead can help us decide how much remediation to do and which kinds of crops to grow.

2. Are typical methods of remediation applicable to this situation? Typical methods may involve removing contaminated soil and replacing it with clean soil.

3. What other methods are available for remediation? Could we use phytoremediation (plants that take up lead, thereby removing it from the soil) or vermiculture (worms have filtered soil for thousands of years - perhaps they can remove lead)?

The good news and bad news is that there's much we don't know - which means that we need to learn a lot, but there's potential for a solution. And on the plus side for the D, if they find it, other cities can use it, which will show the world that Detroit still leads innovation.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Group Blog

When UAID started this blog (as Detroit Goat Farm), we intended it to be a group blog. However, that didn't happen at first, and it ended up being me sharing my thoughts. While I think my thoughts are interesting enough, I'm guessing readers would appreciate multiple perspectives.

With that in mind, I've invited a few other people to post - hope you find their thoughts fresh and insightful.

Monday, May 3, 2010

UAID in a Nutshell

When we go to conferences, or social events, or other gatherings where people hear about UAID for the first time, people want what I call the "cocktail version" of what UAID is: a brief description that gives them the general idea. This is normally a struggle, partly because we've been involved in fairly limited activities so far compared to what we dream of doing. Essentially, because we're in the beginning stages still, there's a lot of shaping left to do.

I struggle to fit UAID in a nutshell - it certainly isn't almond sized, or hazelnut sized, or walnut sized. Maybe if I go for coconut-sized (a coconut is the largest nut in the world), I can manage it.

I picture UAID as a web of connections, or a network of bridges, between people who are and/or should be interested in Detroit. So far, we have some departments from Michigan State University on board, a bookstore in Lansing, and a community collective in Detroit. We're looking into additional partnerships all the time. The key, for us, is innovation (the word "initiative" helps convey this - the idea of a beginning, a fresh start). Detroit needs something new, something fresh, something knowledge-based. I know many people don't see agriculture as a knowledge-based field, but especially in urban areas, there's a lot of learning that needs to happen before it reaches its full potential. We see the challenges of urban agriculture not as an impediment to success, but as a pathway to fixing overall food systems.

That said, we are not about starting new community gardens, although we love community gardens and hope to see more of them - Greening of Detroit is doing a great job with that, and I'm constantly amazed by the level of support they offer Detroiters. We're not about starting goat farms, either (although some people do know us as the "goat girls") - though we love goats, think there's a place for them in the city, and have worked to create opportunities for that. We're not about aquaculture, or green therapy, or alternative energy. We're about seeing all of those things working together in a process that creates a sustainable economy for Detroit.

That's UAID in a nutshell.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Nature Deficit Disorder

I was reading The Engaged Scholar Volume 4 (a publication of Michigan State University's Outreach and Engagement Office) when I came across a phrase I'd never heard before: nature deficit disorder. Fortunately, it listed the book where the term originated, Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. In 20 minutes, I was on my way to the library.

The author makes it clear that nature deficit disorder is not a medical/clinical diagnosis, but rather observation of a trend in which children spend less time outdoors, often have limited access to green space, and thereby have a different relationship to nature. The book also focuses on the calming effects of nature, including the use of green therapy for children with ADHD.

This, of course, started me thinking on Detroit. With high crime rates and lots of cement, it seems to follow many of the patterns listed in the book. However, in many areas, pheasants are sighted in the prairie grasses that have grown over vacant lots. The city has high rates of lead poisoning, which can cause behavioral and cognitive issues in children. ADHD is also prevalent.

With Detroit's agricultural revolution and the efforts to make the city greener, there also comes an opportunity to lead in green therapy and other alternative approaches to children's special needs. We hope soon to establish a partnership between the Children's Center in Detroit and appropriate departments at Michigan State to try green therapy on a small scale.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Seven Generations

At the Bioeconomy and Climate Change Symposium at MSU yesterday, Frank Ettawageshik, the executive director of the United Tribes of Michigan, gave a tribal perspective on climate change that I found to be really interesting, and one that fits well with UAID's underlying goals. In a nutshell, it was that the tribes plan seven generations ahead. Seven generations isn't a quantifiable time, nor is it a time frame that allows us to develop models and scenarios realistically (we just can't accurately predict that far into the future). However, thinking that way challenges us to plan for a time when we're entirely forgotten, when our descendants probably can't name us.

So I'm asking: what would you want to see for your descendants of seven generations? What would Detroit have to do, be or look like for you to want your descendants to be residing there that long from now?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Update: Catherine Ferguson Academy

Recently I published a post about Catherine Ferguson Academy (CFA), a high school for pregnant teens with a working farm on its campus. They're keeping their minds open about the move to merge with Nancy Boykin, but they do have many concerns.

Here's a link to a video made as CFA defended its programs:

The most meaningful quote to me: "We are going to take some of our knowledge that we've learned about growing plants and animals. I also want to say about agricultural program. Agriculture is now the leading industry in Michigan again. It used to be autos, but they took a dive. So, we are on the forefront. There's a lot of jobs in agriculture. So we think we've got something going strong here."

Monday, April 19, 2010

How We Do (Or How UAID is like Roomba)

A few years ago, the Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner became available. Essentially, directions were to remove impediments such as cords, furniture, and other objects, set it on the floor, and let it go to work. It would start vacuuming in one direction, and then when it ran into something, it would change vectors and continue until it ran into something else. Not nearly as cool as the droids most people imagine completing such a task, but eventually it got the job done.

I wish I could said that UAID is like a droid rather than a Roomba, that we had all the knowledge and connections necessary to methodically accomplish our goals. Truthfully, though, we've run into a lot of impediments and had to change vectors. At first, many people thought we were crazy (and we are), or they couldn't imagine that we'd find the resources we needed. We've also had a lot of people help remove cords so that we could at least get better access to the next wall (Steve Safferman and Denise Maybank come to mind). Sometimes we've been able to go great distances before having to change direction, and sometimes we end up in a tight corner where it seems like all we're doing is bumping our heads.

Even in that tight corner, though, we're adjusting, learning, and cleaning some floor along the way. Of course we hope to find more direct methods to achieve our goals, but we're not above being Roombas for now. We hope that you'll join us in the task, although it means accepting some hard knocks occasionally.

Friday, April 16, 2010

UAID in the News

Urban Agricultural Initiatives was mentioned in today's State News! They wrote a piece about the senior design projects that students complete in the Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering department at MSU.

To check it out, visit

Sunday, April 11, 2010

An End, A Beginning, and Lots of Dirt

As the academic year draws to a close, our goat engineers are finishing up their project. We had a chance to see their presentation on Thursday, and we were so impressed with the progress they've made. Their model looks to be useful (I've already heard one request for access to it and a recommendation that they make it available through MSU Extension). We wish them all the best as they graduate and move on with their careers, and we hope that they'll check in with us periodically!

We're also looking at new projects within the Biosystems Engineering Department at MSU. They're changing the way senior design projects will be selected, so we're not sure how everything will happen, but currently it looks like we'll have students working on heavy metal toxicity in soil as well as an aquaculture project (imagine huge tanks of tilapia).

The heavy metal toxicity project will address one of our main concerns for Detroit's urban agricultural movement, which is the lead contamination, so heavily present in many areas of the city, that has already caused lead poisoning in many of Detroit's children. While working at Georgia Street Community Garden, I chatted with Mark Covington about this. The dirt coating my hands wasn't an issue - although the soil on Georgia Street is poor, it isn't contaminated. However, Mark knew of other gardens that required soil remediation before they could move forward. We'd like to target these areas in our partnerships.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Sweet Anticipation

Tomorrow Rebecca and I will be in East Lansing for the MSU Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering Faculty Showcase, in which the seniors will present their capstone projects to the faculty members from the department. I imagine that our team is engaged in a whirlwind of activity to prepare, and given that their grades and chances of getting a job will be influenced by the outcome of tomorrow, I assume they're nervous.

I have some butterflies too - it's been about a year since we kicked our goat farm plans into gear, and this is the first finished product we'll have. Not only does their design of the goat farm affect whether it can be implemented soon, it may also influence how strong UAID's relationship with the department will be. We're hoping to work with MSU on plans for a fish farm in the city, and we'd also like to see the department doing work on soil remediation.

And yes, part of me is just plain excited! We've had a chance to talk to our seniors all year, and we have a fair idea what they're working on. They've done a great job not only on the engineering, but on helping us grow as a non-profit. One student recommended we present at MLK Day, an opportunity we wouldn't have found on our own. Another has said that they're writing recommendations for future urban agriculture groups. Both of these activities went above and beyond their call of duty.

In closing, let me just holler: "Go green!"

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Belated: What we learned at the Symposium

On Friday, Rebecca and I attended Re-Building the Post Industrial City, an excellent symposium put on by the Journal of Law in Society at Wayne State. Not only were the speakers and panels wonderful, but the conference was well-organized and publicized.

I'll give just a few highlights:

Meeting Kathryn Lynch Underwood of the City Planning Commission (CPC). She indicated that she knows Mark Covington of Georgia Street, and that the CPC is working on building codes and zones related to urban agriculture. This is a huge relief for us (although we'll want to get in on the public hearings), because we can dedicate resources to areas other than lobbying for permission to keep livestock in the city.

Learning about the amount of lead in Detroit's soil. This was disappointing, since there's a huge heavy metal problem in the city that will need to be solved before urban agriculture can really take off, but Rebecca and I have been discussing possible strategies for remediation and partnerships.

Realizing that MSU should have an Urban Agriculture Symposium. As a land-grant institution with some of the top agricultural programs in the country, MSU should be closely and visibly involved with the urban agriculture happening in Detroit. More on that later, we hope.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Some Changes Goin' On Around Here

You may have noticed that our blog URL has changed to - this reflects the official name of our non-profit (and we think it sounds more professional and accurate). Our facebook group's name has also changed to Urban Agricultural Initiatives of Detroit. Our e-mail address has not yet changed, but be on the lookout for that.

These changes don't reflect any change in ideology, but we felt that it was important to be consistent.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Location, Location, Location!

We met with the Georgia Street Community Garden (GSCG) today - we'd met a couple who volunteers there at MSU Spring Goat Day. They explained that they're interested in having goats in Detroit in addition to their current vegetable and chicken projects.

As we discussed our plans, all of us got more excited - we have resources and contacts that could be very beneficial for Georgia Street, but more importantly, they have already begun work in a neighborhood and have developed rapport with the people there. Given that Rebecca and I are starting med school and grad school soon, we're excited to be able to implement our engineers' plans in the relatively near future. We plan to keep a partnership with them in order to increase their capacity and get them access to new resources.

Given that Georgia Street already has several lots available, this allows us to bypass the work of finding a suitable location - GSCG will be a great home for urban goats.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Catherine Ferguson Academy

When we were beginning to plan UAID, a friend down at Wayne State tipped me off about a school in Detroit specifically for teen moms and pregnant teens that used innovative educational strategies, including parenting classes, an on-site garden, and livestock. Its name: Catherine Ferguson Academy for Young Women (CFA). I had to check it out, so last spring I went down to volunteer for a day. The scope of the agricultural project, the partnership with Greening of Detroit, and the leadership I saw from the schools principal all convinced me that this was a place where real learning was taking place. Later, I had the opportunity to read a dissertation done on CFA. For more information about the school, check out this article. You can also listen to a student interview on CBC Windsor.

We had hoped to partner with Ferguson, but it's now on the Detroit Public Schools list of schools to be closed. Their vision fits closely with ours, given that they're using education and agriculture to break cycles of poverty and empower young women. CFA should eventually be re-located to join with another school for pregnant teens, but there has been no mention of intention to keep the agricultural component of the project.

If this is an issue that interests you, here are a few ways to get involved.

1. Write to Robert Bobb and ask him to visit the school, review the programs, and consider how to keep the school open or maintain current programs at a new site. His e-mail address is

2. Watch for news about public hearings and attend them.

3. Volunteer at Ferguson. You can write to Dana Applebaum at for more information.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Kudos to MDGS!

Rebecca and I had the distinct pleasure of attending the Michigan Dairy Goat Society's (MDGS) Spring Goat Day, held at Michigan State University (yes, we have bleating hearts at "Moo U"). Because of one of our team member's contacts, we were also able to present our workshop there.

Although attendance at our workshop was small, around 10 people, the input we got from them was not. The attendees were both enthusiastic and realistic about the hurdles we would have to overcome. Their main concern was making sure that residents of the nearby neighborhoods would be involved and have a sense of ownership - something Detroit Goat Farm, and now UAID, have emphasized from the start. This is particularly interesting to me because one of my earlier sessions, about the Michigan Right to Farm Act, also stressed that farmers in rural and peri-urban areas should be good to their neighbors in order to reduce complaints and form good community relations.

We're hoping to stay in contact with MDGS and maybe even to share one of its board members for our board of directors.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Shrine of the Black Madonna

From the very beginning of the goat project, we've realized that faith-based organizations in Detroit would likely be some of our strongest partners. Yesterday Rebecca and I visited the Shrine of the Black Madonna on Detroit's west side, part of the Pan-African Orthodox Church. Despite being the only White people present, we felt welcomed and comfortable in their warm, uplifting sanctuary. The service encouraged both individual and community growth, subjects that I suspect are regular themes for this church body. Our purpose statement seemed to align closely with many of the church's priorities.

Visiting Shrine was a reminder of not only why we want to start the goat farm, but for whom we're starting it. This community clearly gave of themselves regularly to help people in need, even though I'm sure most of them didn't have lots of disposable income sitting around. I believe that given the opportunity to nourish, care for, and further empower each other, they would jump at it.

Rebecca has spoken with one church member about the goat farm, and we intend to keep in touch, perhaps visiting again when possible. If you know of a faith-based group that might be interested in having us present a workshop, please let us know.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Incorporate with Us!

This morning, Rebecca and I filed paperwork to become a nonstock corporation with the name Urban Agricultural Initiatives of Detroit (UAID, pronounced You Aid - yes, we did that on purpose). Once approved, we'll be a non-profit corporation. We also applied for and were granted an EIN.

The next step is to write bylaws, find a board of directors, and come up with a few hundred dollars to apply for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status. If you are a lawyer familiar with non-profit law and would be willing to do pro-bono work, we'd love to talk to you.

If you are not a lawyer, but are interested in helping, we're in need of a board of directors, money, office supplies, workshop venues, expertise in a variety of areas, and people to sit and dream with us.

What NYC Thinks of D-Town

This is partially intended as a response to replies to the previous post, "What would it take to keep you here?"

Recently, I was in NYC, and when I mentioned to a student at NYU that I was from the Detroit area, she mentioned that she and her artsy friends had joked about coming to Detroit to buy a house for a dollar. It's a bit of a stretch, in that as far as I can tell, the "homes for a dollar" isn't exactly how it sounds, but with the average cost of a home in Detroit at about $6,000, that sort of scenario is playing out in the city.

Gentrification is beginning to take place in Detroit as what I'll call "new hippies" (millenials who reject the consumer culture of recent decades) move in, appreciating the low rent and grunge feel of a Rust Belt City. Many are artists or small business owners, attracted to lofts, houses, or cheap apartments in Hamtramck, Midtown, Eastern Market district, or other neighborhoods.

My response to the NYU student? Overwhelming encouragement to consider Detroit a livable, fun place to relocate after completing her graduate degree. That said, she would likely take time to adjust to D-town life, with its lack of public transportation, grocery stores, movie theaters, and bowling alleys.

Still, I argue that attracting such young professionals will begin to change the city, and that Detroit's best advocates are Detroiters.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What would it take . . .

to keep you here?

A couple years ago, I was ready to leave Michigan and return only to visit family. I'm a young professional with two bachelor's degrees and odds of being accepted to more than one of the many graduate schools to which I've applied, only one of which is in Michigan. My story is not at all unique - with the loss of jobs and public services declining, plus a distinct reputation as part of the Rust Belt, Michigan looks less than attractive to millenials (people born between 1980 and 2000).

However, projects like Detroit Goat Farm, Greening of Detroit, Urban Farming, Pure Michigan, Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice, and Free Clinics of Michigan, among a host of others, have changed my mind. I'm seeing how active many Michiganders are in their communities, how much innovation could happen here, and dreaming a new dream for the state of my birth. The result? My first choice for graduate school is Michigan State University, with University of Illinois at Chicago a close second, for its proximity to the Mitten State.

Of course, there are changes I'd like to see. At the top of the list is public transportation and stronger emphasis on education. I'm sure we can all think of things we like and don't like about our state of residence, be it Michigan, California, New York, Texas, etc.

Now I'm asking: what would it take to keep you here? Or to get you to move here, or to move back?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Applause for our Goat Engineers

Just a little applause going out to our goat engineers at Michigan State! They're on track to present their work in April, and we should be getting some Excel files from them later today. If you're interested in seeing their presentations, they are:

Apr 15: Biosystems Engineering Showcase - an event for friends and family, geared towards non-technical conversations with a more laid-back atmosphere and general questions. Location: TBA, likely MSU Kellogg Center.

Apr 16 (Tentative): MSU University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum - a research fair with posters and short presentations about undergraduate research projects. Location: MSU Union.

Apr 30: Design Day - our engineers will set up a booth next to other capstone projects and provide small explanations of the project. Location: TBA, likely the MSU Union.

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Exciting News!

Detroit Goat Farm has been busy of late! Last Thursday morning, we met with Denise Maybank, the MSU Vice President for Student Affairs, who gave us some great ideas for partnerships.

Thursday evening we had a chance to talk to our engineering team - they've come up with a plan to manage waste. It involves composting with use of biofilters that will bind sulfur to manage odor. Because of the dryness of goat manure, we'll likely use microbes to help break everything down. A bonus to this system? One of the byproducts is heat, which we'll be able to use to reduce our heating bill for the goat barn during the winter. Depending how much heat is produced, our head goat engineer, Rebecca Busk, would also like to add a greenhouse to the facility.

Then on Friday, we presented our workshop again to an MSU Honors seminar on sustainability. The students, mostly freshman, gave feedback that the format of the workshop was new for them, and they demonstrated great enthusiasm for the problem solving scenarios we asked them to consider. The professor, who has been around many of these ideas for quite some time, also complimented the format as a real-world setup for discussions.

One last announcement: Detroit Goat Farm will be presenting at Spring Goat Day in Anthony Hall at MSU through the Michigan Dairy Goat Society. We're looking forward to meeting lots of other goat enthusiasts!

Monday, January 25, 2010

O Pioneers! and Detroit Goat Farm

Today I read and discussed the same excerpt from Willa Cather's O Pioneers! about five times (the short explanation is that I'm a teacher), in which a brother who has gone off to the city to work as an engraver has returned home and is reflecting with his sister, who remained in Nebraska, working the family farm. This gave me plenty of time to let the message sink in.

The city dweller describes life as "paying exorbitant rent for a few square feet of space near the heart of things; we have no ties, we know nobody, we own nothing." The farmer replies, "We pay a high rent, too, though we pay differently. We grow hard and heavy. We don't move lightly and easily as you do, and out minds get stiff."

Both seem to envy the other's life, leading one to wonder if there's any place to live that lacks troubles. Detroit Goat Farm looks to combine the positives of community ties and owning a place of one's own to the joy of living close to the heart of a city. We hope to give people a sense of belonging while keeping their minds active, to keep their bodies strong while allowing them the opportunity to develop as a person.

Maybe there's nowhere trouble-free, but it's my hope that Detroit Goat Farm is a place where the troubles are worth having and worth learning from.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Many Ideas Generated from Successful Workshop

“Starting with community based farms could not only generate jobs in short-term and long-term progress, but it would also address the issue of how we get communities involved. We must allow communities to define their own ownership of a project.” ~ Participant, Martin Luther King, Jr. Student Leadership Conference

“If you think it’s a great idea, try to achieve it. But, you cannot do it alone. For any community initiative to be effective it must involve the current leaders of a given community. Forcing an issue as an outsider will elicit a reactionary, and assuredly negative response.” ~ Rebecca Busk, Co-Founder of Detroit Goat Farm

These quotes both came up during activities and discussion during yesterday's workshop, Detroit: A New Land of Milk and Honey. A few patterns of ideas emerged, including the one illustrated by the above statements, which is that local leadership is crucial to the success of this kind of project. Other concepts shared were:

1. People don’t need complicated vocabulary or extensive training in agriculture to be able to discuss urban farming issues with a sophisticated level of thought, if provided the right framework.

2. These programs have the potential for positive social outcomes, especially building community, which generated a level of excitement for these kinds of projects, stemming from the belief that this could be an effective method of change for the city.

3. Residents of the neighborhood can and should be involved in the decision-making process, and their well-being should be the number one priority.

We were thrilled with the quality of responses during discussion and the diversity of perspectives represented. Detroit Goat Farm hopes to offer this workshop through several other venues, including high schools, college classes, and community or faith-based groups. If you're interested in booking a workshop, contact

Sunday, January 10, 2010

You're Invited . . .

. . . to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. with Detroit Goat Farm!

We'll be presenting a workshop entitled "Detroit: A New Land of Milk and Honey" at Michigan State University's MLK, Jr. Student Leadership Conference. Get more information or sign up here. The theme this year is "The Message: Our History, Our Future," which Detroit Goat Farm will be sharing through information about Detroit's history and the hope that we have for its future in community development and local food.