‘Agrihood’ project focuses on farm-to-table in Detroit

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — Officials at a farm operation in the city’s north end unveiled a partnership Wednesday that will help transform a long-vacant apartment building into a community center and cafe to anchor its growing agricultural campus.

The Michigan Urban Farming Initiative is developing what it says is the nation’s first sustainable “agrihood” on Detroit’s north side.

The nonprofit Michigan Urban Farming Initiative has teamed with BASF and Sustainable Brands to restore the three-story former apartment building across from its urban garden to serve as a Community Resource Center and for-profit healthy food cafe.

The project is being touted as the nation’s first urban “agrihood,” an alternative neighborhood that’s built around the farm-to-table model featured mainly in rural and suburban settings. It’s slated to be unveiled as part of a global Sustainable Brands conference in Detroit at Cobo Center in May.

“It’s no secret that the north end is facing a lot of development pressure right now, and how we choose to implement that is going to have profound impact on the people here and the people that are moving here,” said Tyson Gersh, the nonprofit’s president and co-founder, during a Wednesday news conference at the Brush Street campus. “We truly think that the way we are approaching this is going to be inclusive. Everybody is going to be able to win together.”

The three-acre farming operation took root in the neighborhood among vacant land, occupied and abandoned homes in fall 2011. Wednesday’s announcement, Gersh said, advances the group’s mission of redeveloping its campus with cost-efficient practices.

The two-acre farm grows more than 300 types of vegetables and provides free produce to about 2,000 households within two square miles of the farm each year. The garden is among about a dozen projects on the site off Brush between Horton and Custer. Most recently, Mercedes Benz Financial Services funded the planting of 200 cherry, plum, pear and apple trees.

A 3,200 square-foot resource center will offer educational programs, event and meeting space, and serve as the organization’s operational headquarters. The space will also house two commercial kitchens to serve the for-profit farm-to-table cafe. The group purchased the building at auction in November 2011. It’s been vacant for at least a decade.

“BASF is inspired by MUFI’s efforts to build and expand this innovative neighborhood model,” said Charlene Warren-Wall, director of sustainability at BASF.

General Motors Co., Herman Miller and environmental firm Green Standards are also partners in the project. General Motors will support the project through its recently announced partnership with Herman Miller’s rePurpose program. Through the program, tens of thousands of pieces of office furniture and surplus items are being repurposed from renovations at GM’s Warren Technical Center, Milford Proving Ground, and global headquarters in Detroit.

Clarissa Luckett, 59, a 50-year Detroit resident who lives nearby, makes use of food from the farm and is pleased with its growth.

“I love it because we’re kind of in a food desert,” she said. “It’s not easy to get fresh fruits and vegetables.”