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.