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!"