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Detroit's Urban Agriculture Ordinance Inspires Changes to Vacant Lots

D-Town Farms, Detroit

If you take a break from the media coverage of Detroit that focuses on the City's ever-increasing unemployment rate, ample vacant land and rampant blight, you will notice some optimistic trends in sustainability, from organizing around transit justice to increased biking. Another huge trend here turns those vacant parcels of land you read so much about into viable urban farms.

Following much controversy and an endorsement in the Detroit Works Project's Future City Framework, passionate urban farmers in Detroit are now protected by the City's urban agriculture ordinance, passed in April of 2013. The new ordinance, put together by a consortium of organizations – like Wayne State University's School of Planning and Law, and Detroit farms like Feedom Freedom and D-Town – provides definitions of and regulations for urban farms (larger than one acre) and urban gardens (less than one acre). The formality of the ordinance provides a foundation that will hopefully maintain this movement as a primarily small and grassroots one.

Detroit Eastern Market

Detroit's urban agriculture ordinance states that residential urban garden properties are allowed to sell their produce from small stands on their property. Meanwhile, larger farms are bringing their harvest to farmers markets and even to Detroit's first Whole Foods store. According to a recent report from the United States Department of Agriculture, the State of Michigan has the fourth-largest number of farmers markets in the nation; and Detroit's Eastern Market is becoming increasingly popular in the area. Eastern Market strives to be the preeminent source for fresh and nutritious food in the Detroit area and many of the City's urban farms have been bringing their produce to market every Saturday.

With such an emphasis on urban agriculture in the City's urban planning platform, it will be interesting to see the trajectory of the movement. How does a city strike a balance between the popularity of urban farming and the traditional definition of an urban area?

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