While Detroit may be singing the blues a new documentary reveals what is driving its progress

Published on WorldWatchBlogs, by Graham Salinger, Nov. 5, 2011.

Detroit was once a destination for car companies and youth trying to break into the music industry. Today, it’s now home to entrepreneurs looking to break into the urban farming business. In Detroit, a city that saw half its population move in the wake of economic collapse, many of the hopes of those who stayed behind hinges on urban farming.   

Detroit’s efforts are captured in the documentary Urban Roots.  For the film’s director, Mark MacInnis, the story he tells in the film is personal. “Every kid he knew had a mom or dad who worked in the car industry,” says the film’s producer, Leila Conners. ”His mom worked at a warehouse that distributed wiring harnesses for Ford Motor Company. And he saw how much people were impacted by his town falling apart and urban agriculture wasn’t something that everyone knew was going on because Detroit is a big city.”

Three years ago, when Conners was working on her film 11th Hour , a documentary about how we are at a tipping point with environmental destruction, that was narrated and produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark showed her footage he shot of farmers in Detroit  and she was impressed by what she saw … //

… As food security continues to become a problem in cities, communities will need to adapt more sustainable approaches to dealing with the growing challenges. Conners hopes that other cities will look at Detroit and realize that opportunities exist for farmers in urban setting. “What we see in the film is that the farmers are helping make Detroit a model for future urban planning. We see that farming needs to be included in urban planning in order to, in some way, address the current global food crisis,” she says.

While the film shows the progress that Detroit farmers have been making, Conners points out that challenges remain. Farmers will continue to be tested as Detroit gets smaller and competition increases over the land. While she points out that Wal-Mart has not come to Detroit, “it’s going to be battle over who wants the land: is the city going to let you farm on the land or let Wal-Mart move in?”  Through her work on Urban Roots, Leila believes strongly  in Detroit’s ability to move forward, “I’m optimistic about the future of urban farming because it makes people happy and because it provides an entry point for people to start focusing on a sustainable future which is important to future food security.  I am very hopeful that it can make people change their mindsets and create healthy communities,” she concluded.

To help continue the momentum that the film has created, a portion of the proceeds from sales of Urban Roots goes to helping to establish gardens at high schools. It is clear that in Detroit and in cities around the world we are just seeing the beginning of urban agriculture. Urban Roots is also just the beginning – Conners has already started work on her next project, a film called Land of Plenty which will focus on food security. (full text).

Do you think urban farms can bring economic relief? Let us know in the comments section!

(Graham Salinger is an intern with Nourishing the Planet).

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.


Nourishing the Planet;

Slate Afrique;

Food Crisis and the Global Land Grab;

Pambazuka News;

UK Uncut, a grassroots anti-austerity action network;

World Food Programme WFP, and WFP/Hunger;

Empire of shame: a conversation with Jean Ziegler.

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