When I visited Detroit last summer, I found it to be a place of extremes. On the one hand, a city buckling under the weight of decades of deindustrialization, white flight, and abandonment -- a city so gripped by economic malaise that it contained not even a single full-service supermarket. On the other, it also seemed a veritable beehive of community organizing, based mainly around urban agriculture.
It's not hard to see why the city's community leaders have settled on urban ag. It takes two devastating problems -- a surfeit of abandoned land, a lack of grocery stores -- and turns them into, respectively, a resource and an opportunity. Abundant land can be used to grow high-quality fresh food, which will then find a ready market among a citizenry that relies heavily on liquor stores for food shopping. I wrote up my impressions of Detroit in a broad overview and in a brief look at three especially interesting projects.
One project I visited briefly but didn't get a chance to write about was Catharine Ferguson Academy, a special public high school for pregnant girls. The school, featured in the documentary Grown in Detroit, is most famous for its large vegetable garden tended and harvested by the students. But its importance goes beyond gardening. Teenage pregnancy can be a tragic event -- it can severely limit educational and job opportunities for young women and lead to cycles of poverty and despair. The threat is particularly serious in a place like Detroit, where job opportunities are limited.