MSU initiative could bring farming to urban Detroit

In a few years, Detroit’s urban space might just be the best location to cultivate a green thumb.

MSU officials have proposed an initiative to spur urban farming within city limits and turn vacant land back for community use, modeled after similar international programs, said Chris Peterson, director of MSU’s Product Center.

They currently are in negotiations with Detroit city officials to have access to land to work with soil remediation and outdoor growing. Although still in the planning stages, Peterson said the endeavor could become a 100-acre and $100 million investment in collaboration with numerous groups, including business and governmental entities.

“Urban regions are going to need a food system that is going to take an awful lot of innovation between now and then,” he said, adding nobody right now knows how to both grow food within a major metropolitan area and feed the people within that area.

MSU’s proposal has been years in the making, following a multiyear agricultural development project in the Netherlands and a 2010 summit about urban farming in Rotterdam, Peterson said. Because of exploding urban populations worldwide, he said it is becoming increasingly necessary to create a sustainable food system within these metropolitan locations.

The initial soil remediation and outdoor growing work could turn to refurbishing larger urban buildings for plant growth within controlled conditions, such as using LED lighting and minimal water, Peterson said.

But the university cannot move within city space without Detroit officials’ approval, he said. A meeting is scheduled in July to further discussions on location.

Kathryn Lynch Underwood, a member of the City of Detroit City Planning Commission and the Detroit Food Policy Council could not be reached for comment Monday.

The council had at least two interactions with the MSU proposal, and at the most recent meeting earlier this month, a number of community members said they wanted to have their opinions heard in the planning process, said Cheryl Simon, coordinator with the Detroit Food Policy Council.

“One of the roles is to make sure that residents of the city are involved in the plans and also benefit from jobs that are created and improvements in the food system … (including) access to food,” Simon said.

Elizabeth Krhovsky, an environmental studies and agriscience senior, said through her studies, she’s found that many metropolitan areas are considered food deserts where people have to travel farther and pay more to have access to healthy food.

MSU’s approach is an important step in the problem, she said, noting it’s tied with the university’s land grant philosophy.

“It’s really important that the people of Detroit have opportunities to have healthy food available to them, and I feel in this day and age, people want to know where their food comes from,” Krhovsky said.

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