Guerrilla gardening — why are people doing it in Detroit?

(WWJ) Guerrilla gardening is not encouraged, to be clear … but there’s a reason that people are doing it in neighborhoods in Detroit.

Most folks have heard the term urban farming, defined as the practice of cultivating, processing and distributing food in an urban setting.

But what if you don’t actually own the space where you’re growing the food?

Tepfiran Rushdan, Co-Director of Keep Growing Detroit, says so-called “guerrilla gardening” has been going on in Detroit for quite some time.

“Detroit has an interesting history of disinvestment that has led us to have a 30% vacancy rate in the city…And so many people — particularly ten, 15 years ago — they’re living on a block and there’s an empty lot and they just go and grow on it,” Rushdan explained. “They don’t necessarily care who owns it. And today, totally, there are still people who do that.”

Those guerrilla tactics may work for a time, Rushdan said, however: “Now that Detroit is starting to see a little more investment in its neighborhoods, I’ve had situations where people did that, and then they didn’t have the proper paperwork that went with their land. Their crops were destroyed, when somebody purchased it right from under them.”

“I’ve had many cases like that. It’s very heartbreaking.”

So, if you’re thinking about growing crops on land that you do not own, Rushdan suggests being very thoughtful about the amount of investment that you’re putting in that property. “So you don’t wanna spend thousands and thousands of dollars and end up that somebody purchases it from under you.”

This conversation comes as urban gardening and urban farming remains popular in the the city where — although some new grocery stores have been added in recent years— residents in so called “food deserts” lack easy access to fresh food.

In the latest episode of the ARISE Detroit! Neighborhood Transformers podcast series — focused on Detroit people and organizations working to make a difference in Detroit neighborhoods — ARISE executive director Luther Keith went in depth with Rushdan and Nayomi Cawthorne, with Feedom Freedom, about how urban farming works, and what Detroiters can do to get involved.

Starting out in urban farming can be as easy as growing some vegetables in your own backyard, Cawthorne said, and anyone of any age, race, or background can be a farmer.

“I like to tell people I’m a farmer,” she said. “Because the way that we have been taught, the stereotype of farmers, does not match me…when they look at me.”

“A stereotype of a farmer in the United States would be a white man, 50 and up, chewing on a piece of straw with a hat on and overalls, with a flannel, driving a tractor. Is it not?”

Listen to the complete discussion between Keith, Cawthorn and Rushdan about urban farming in Detroit, HERE, and check out other episodes of the ARISE Detroit! Neighborhood Transformers podcast below.

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