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Could a Detroit Experiment Unleash the Power of Urban Soil?

A multi-year study underway aims to build healthy urban soil quickly at minimum cost, yielding local, fresh food and climate mitigation as a bonus.

Over the past few months, the COVID-19 crisis has hit Detroit hard, resulting in more 12,000 cases and more than 1,500 deaths. It’s also produced an unemployment rate perhaps as high as 29 percent and a surging demand at area food banks.

These problems have brought renewed focus to the importance of food sovereignty in Detroit and elsewhere, and on a changing climate, which could make pandemics worse. Urban farming and gardening sit at the intersection of these issues—and offer a possible way forward, allowing communities to access healthy food close to home and possibly mitigate climate change by capturing carbon in soil.

Midway into its second season, a three-year study underway in Detroit has already created some promising results that could be a big step forward for urban agriculture. In the northwest corner of the city, Naim Edwards, director of the Michigan State University (MSU)-Detroit Partnership for Food Learning and Innovation, is leading a multi-year experiment to study the quickest, cheapest, and most environmentally sustainable ways to build urban soil.