Why You Should Be Excited About Urban Farms

Why You Should Be Excited About Urban Farms

Think about your favorite vegetable. Not those shriveled baby carrots left over from a long-abandoned veggie dip tray; maybe a peppery bunch of arugula, or your Grandma’s famous collard greens. If you were to pass them on the street, would you recognize even the most familiar of plants?

Here in Michigan, we are lucky to reap the benefits of city life as well as beautiful agricultural bounty. However, for many of us, even with booming farm land right in our own backyards, a faded food pyramid from high school health class often serves as the extent of our knowledge about the story behind what we eat.

Imagine understanding what your food goes through, from seed to stomach. What if you were able to connect with others who care about where their food comes from, to know the very individual who planted, nurtured and harvested the food which will nourish and sustain your life–or even do all that yourself? If you could to learn what plants actually taste like and how to cook with them, wouldn’t that make food an awful lot more inspiring?

Photo courtesy of mlive.com
Photo courtesy of mlive.com

Enter the urban farm.

An overgrown plot of land between two buildings may not seem like much on your walk to work, but when converted into small low-cost farms, less than an acre can provide nutrition, education and sustainable income for those who may otherwise be lacking. Using a type of farming which has been nicknamed SPIN (Small Plot Intensive), individuals and groups work together, sharing resources and manpower, thus making urban growing financial viable.

For Andy Dragt, founder of Grand Rapids’ City Farmers Collective, urban farming is about more than just providing another source for food.

“This was the result of years of passion,” Dragt explains. “Passion for the city, food systems–things that grow. To me, it’s just miraculous every year when you put seeds in the ground and something comes of it. But it seemed like anything anyone had going on to bring that to the city was extremely resource intensive to get started or even try, so I wanted to see what we could do with manpower and hard work instead of a lot of money.”

Starting out with Monday night potlucks at his own home, Dragt, his neighbors and parish members began a mini-garden, and the City Farmers Collective was born. After renting the lot on Wealthy Street, the farm continued to grow, eventually attracting the attention of local restaurants and food suppliers alike–a connection which offers reasonable return on investment for small-plot urban farmers.

Photo courtesy of Uptown Farm
Photo courtesy of Uptown Farm

In addition to providing income, jobs and sustainable food sources to low-income areas, City Farmers’ is scooping up land near local schools to help get kids actively involved in learning where their food comes from, a step which will hopefully help set them on the path to full seed-to-plate involvement with their food choices.

“There’s something really powerful about working on something together and sharing in the fruits of it together, building an extended family… And my kids are growing up as a part of that. I think that kind of community building is significant,” Dragt said.

Want to get your hands dirty?

Whether its a donation of time or money, a field trip with your kids, or just a peaceful stroll through some much sought-after greenery, check out these growing urban farms on both sides of the mitten–or even get some neighbors together and start one in your own city!

City Farmers Collective- Grand Rapids, MI
Uptown Farm- Grand Rapids, MI

The Michigan Urban Farming Initiative- Detroit
Earthworks Urban Farm- Detroit
Hantz Woodlands- Detroit

Photo courtesy of City Farmers.us
Photo courtesy of City Farmers.us

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Thanks primarily to long marathons of the Food Network (shout out to Alton Brown!) and many failed kitchen experiments, I have come to appreciate the ever-important role of food and fitness in a healthy a lifestyle. My view? It doesn't make you an elitist to be educated about what you put in your body. There is no rule book that says you have to become a vegan overnight, or cut out gluten entirely, or start wearing a beret and shopping solely at fair-trade markets. You can still go out with friends, shop at Meijer, and keep quick, easy food on hand. You're in a hurry, you're on a budget... I get it. But you CAN make just a few small changes and lose weight, prevent disease, and have more energy. I'm here to prove it. Join me on my ever-growing quest to find the most delicious, nutritious food and learn from the people who grow it, sell it, and cook it- right here in our own backyard.