Detroit Is Now America’s First 100% Organic, Self-Sustainable Neighborhood

Agrihood–it sounds like a trendy buzzword from the coffee bars of New York or San Francisco. In fact, that is where it’s from. The term ‘agrihood’ was copyrighted by Rancho Mission Viejo, a Southern California real estate brand. While their agrihood, and others like it are for the super-rich, there’s a new game in town. In 2016, the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative introduced the first urban ‘agrihood’–in a Detroit neighborhood where average home prices are less than $25,000. (1

The ’Hood

MUFI’s agrihood includes a “two-acre urban garden, a 200-tree fruit orchard, a children’s sensory garden, and more,” according to their press release. The urban garden alone boasts more than three hundred varieties of vegetables. Their food is organic, and they use marigolds to keep bugs away. It’s surrounded by a variety of homes, some vacant, some not. One of these vacant buildings, three stories and 3,200 feet, will be adapted into a community resource center with two commercial kitchens. In addition, they plan to open a healthy food café. But that’s not the only project they have underway. They’re restoring vacant homes into student housing, turning homes into shipping containers, and renovating a basement into a water cistern. Their goal is, again, according to their press release, “redevelopment and growth…through alternative and cost-efficient models,” and this neighborhood is where MUFI is focusing. (1, 2)

Michigan Urban Farming Initiative

With ‘agrihoods’ originating in high-end luxury developments, what is the company behind this Detroit neighbourhood like? MUFI is an entirely volunteer-run nonprofit organization. Over the four years they’ve been working on this urban agrihood, 8,000 volunteers have poured over 80,000 hours of work. According to their sources, this is the equivalent of four million dollars worth of labor. They bring free food to 20,000 households, local churches, and food banks. The amount? Fifty thousand pounds of food was donated between 2012-2016. Tyson Gersh, the co-founder of MUFI, says that they’ve ”grown from an urban garden that provides fresh produce for our residents to a diverse, agricultural campus that has helped sustain the neighborhood, attracted new residents and area investment.” (1,2)

The People of the Agrihood

Most importantly, for the urban agrihood, the goal is to work with the existing residents to build. That’s why they have additional projects in the area. Quan Blunt, MUFI’s farm manager, stresses the amount of cooperation with the community. “Community members can use our tools, our lawnmower. Whenever we get large numbers of volunteers [for the farm], we go first to the block club president to see what she needs done,” he says. “The goal here is to strengthen the community.” Additionally, Blunt has a multitude of ties to the area. He grew up in Detroit, and his grandmother was raised in the neighborhood where the urban agrihood now resides. Blunt graduated from Michigan State University in the fields of Food Science and Environmental studies. His motivation is to give back to his home and the people in it. “People deserve fresh food,” Blunt says. “I believe good nutrition can help people reach their potential.” (1)

It’s local agri-efforts like these that may inspire other communities to source food locally.