Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Urban Organicz - Kids Growing Vegetables in Abandoned Lots in Detroit

A friend recently loaned me the movie “The Power of Community – How Cuba Survived Peak Oil”.  It was a documentary telling of how the embargo nearly crippled Cuba, but also on how Cuba became stronger as a result of it.  Out of necessity, Cuba transformed nearly every facet of its society.  It changed the way communities were laid out and fed for power.  The bicycle and mass transportation dominated the streets.  The average Cuban lost 20 pounds through biking and walking and eating a lot less and a lot healthier.  Where they had formerly been one of the highest users of chemical fertilizers and oil-based pesticides on industrial farms, they were now farming every piece of arable land organically.  This was true in Urban settings (Permaculture) in addition to Cooperatives and smaller farms that people could have free of charge from the government as long as they were growing food on it.  Their country is now being studied by many countries around the world as the rest of humanity prepares for the inevitable peak oil stage.  For Cuba, peak oil came artificially early through harsh embargoes, but it turned out to be a gift in many ways.

Just as Cuba turned adversity into opportunity, Detroit is facing similar circumstances.  Detroit has been in decline for decades and it is only getting worse as Michigan’s economy, highly dependent on the auto industry, faces significant challenges.  Detroit’s landscape is littered with abandoned buildings and lots, but this adversity has many groups poised to make some incredibly positive changes for the city.

Urban Organicz is a not-for-profit, large scale, urban farming program founded Ashley Powell, Mandisa McCowin,Brandon Chambers, DeCinces Martin, and Teeshlee Hawkins.  Their mission is to revitalize and stabilize Detroit’s economy by using vacant lots to grow vegetables, fruit, and grains for lunches in Detroit Public Schools and for sale at local restaurants and farmer’s markets.  Doing so will attain the goals of providing jobs, agricultural education, healthy food for schools and communities, and motivation for young people to be environmental leaders in the urban community.  The organization has adopted 10 lots in northwest Detroit and they expect that by the summer of 2010, over 6,000 students from Detroit Public Schools participating and managing the urban farm plots in their neighborhoods.  

They are opening up these opportunities to those interested in working and/or living with them. In return for living in the Urban Organicz House as a Co-Op member, a small percentage of  time will be used to manage gardens surrounding the property; recruit and manage volunteers; fundraise; and most important of all use their creativity/entrepreneurial skills to contribute to the community. For more information on Urban Organicz, visit:

The Greening of Detroit’s mission is to improve the quality of life in the city through reforestation and educational projects. They provide students and educators with the tool to increase their environmental science skills and stewardship.  Their many programs include TreeKeepers Kids, where kids experience nature first-hand, participate in after school clubs and service learning projects designed to revitalize their community.  For more information about them, visit:

I love how these and many other groups in Detroit are seizing on the opportunity to turn Detroit around by making it a healthier, sustainable, inviting community while encouraging young people to lead the way.  I hope that, like Cuba, Detroit will make adversity its reason to transform itself and in doing so, prepare the students of Detroit schools to advise and educate the rest of us on how to do it in our own communities! How great it would be to see Detroit filled with greens and vegetables, and young students taking back Detroit one green, sustainable lot at a time!


  1. What a beautiful project! With the "energy descent future", one day we'll all be doing that in our communities. We should start learning with Cuba, Detroit and the many EcoVillages spread around the world now! Thank you for the article, Tracy

  2. Thank you for the article