Potatoes, Not Just Pistons, Taking Root in Detroit

We've heard from the politicians, academics, activists, and social commentators about how to help a city like Detroit that is economically-depressed, struggling to retain residents (let alone attract new ones), and home to 500,000 food insecure residents. What has happened? Not much. People offer statistical calculations for how to reduce poverty levels, but the city continues to lose residents and increase the number of vacant homes and lots. Mix in the obesity epidemic, lack of access to healthy, nutritious food, and you've got the worst-case scenario for the city. I have a new equation to offer for how to build up Detroit. Till soil + plant seeds = self empowerment and community development. Multiply this over and over and the change is exponential. The enthralling short documentary, Urban Roots, proves this theory true.

Ironically, the problems that plague the city also offer the best hope for it. The city is slowly providing residents with opportunities to rebuild itself with their every bite of food. Urban Roots profiles residents in Detroit who are making in-roads into their community by transforming vacant lots by tilling the land, planting seeds, and harvesting foods. Although the idea of urban farming might be unknown to many people or just assumed to be commonplace in coastal areas such as San Francisco and Brooklyn, Detroit is becoming more about potatoes than pistons.

The film shows how community gardens are transforming thousands of acres of vacant lots in the city to grow food. For the hundreds of thousands of residents in food deserts whose only regular meals are from convenience stores or fast-food restaurants, residents now have the opportunity for locally-grown nutritious produce. People are growing foods for themselves, neighbors, and to sell at local markets. This is infusing a cash-strapped city with much needed economic growth.

Most importantly, the film shows how these urban farms are tools for individual growth, community development and family survival. By growing and harvesting their own food, residents are empowering themselves to be self-sufficient and to empower their neighborhoods.

It makes complete sense. I am, not a mathematician, but I know this social equation works. Urban farming is one of the most sensible, yet radical, social endeavors helping to transform Detroit. It's an heirloom city whose history of music, business and culture helped to shape our nation. I'm looking forward to the day when the city will be known for its new heirloom tomatoes, apples, and potatoes. Urban Roots offers a snapshot of this inspiring social and environmental movement.

This blog post originally appeared on Civil Eats.