It was a unique day for our team, Dear Reader, as all 20 people on the mission team from Hennepin Avenue UMC, Richfield UMC, and Northfield UMC got together on the same work sites. Read on to learn about what it was like down on the farm. And the other farm!
Farming Hope in the Heart of the City
D-Town Farms is an urban farm focusing on food justice for its community. Growing a variety of crops, from scallions and cabbages to garlic and beyond, this mighty effort isn’t just growing food but awareness and empowerment. The farm itself is city-owned land they lease and there’s plenty of space as it was a former tree nursery back in the day. Now, they cultivate crops to sell at local markets and their own Saturday sales on-site. The most popular crops include okra, kale, and collards but beyond the crops getting grown on purpose there are plenty of edible “weeds” throughout the farm and we got to try a few along the way on our guided tour.
While at D-Town, we were in two work teams, still. Team #1 hoed out an entire field to make it ready for planing, while Team #2 weeded a garden to make way for scallions and cabbages to have room to grow out. For both teams, it was long, arduous work. Yet it was really satisfying to see it all done. I admit, I was a bit overwhelmed by how many weeds there were winding all around the planting boxes but with many hands came light work and the thick, rich black soil was exposed to reveal beautiful rows of delicious, fresh food.
Cultivating Community Partnerships
Michigan Urban Farm Initiative, or MUFI (pronounced “Muffy”) was born out of the dreams of University of Michigan students. They took over the site of where a giant residential building burned down and was abandoned mere blocks from where we’re staying at Metropolitan UMC. A community matriarch, Delores, had dreamed about community gardening and gave her blessing to the students to give it a shot. Now, there’s 3 acres worth of crops, a house foundation turned rain cistern with permeable surface to collect rain water, a walking garden, hide-and-seek trellace fruit tree groves, and a building being retrofitted for offices upstairs, community space downstairs, and someday an assembly/distribution center for things like sauces and canned veggies.
I was impressed by how many sponsorships and partners they have, including the U of M, Miracle Grow, and the city. Donations and corporate sponsors enable MUFI to give away produce for free as they try to fill a void in the city of affordable, fresh produce. Again, remember, the city is a food desert. And if the only new chain grocery store is Whole Foods, well, that may not be the most affordable if you don’t have a steady job.
Our afternoon was spent weeding, for the most part. A local group from an accounting firm was there, too, doing their fair share of weeding as well as attempting to rip out a giant tree stump. They got as far as they could but it will be up to another group to finish the job, which is common for big projects like this that rely on multiple volunteers.
I can’t say whether one farm is better than the other, Dear Reader. Both farms use very different tactics, have related but different missions, and are likely impacting a variety of neighbors. I appreciate that both use interns and volunteers, both empower local citizens to learn about food and eating healthy, and both are about reclaiming the land to grow something good. My guess is they could both learn a lot from each other and each come out stronger on the other end. Perhaps there’s a lesson in that for all of us? Or maybe I’ve been reading too much John Cobb!
Pull into the Prayer Station
Tonight’s EG was unique and well-received. Rather than an assembly hall, we met in the Sanctuary of Metropolitan UMC and traveled between 3 prayer stations. One had a series of photos with explanations about the community and we were invited to pray for the people involved in these challenging situations. In another, we were given John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer and encouraged to ponder it, rewrite it in our own language, or reflect on how it can play a role in our work. In the third, we played a matching game in small groups to match terms like gentrification, redlining, and blockbusting with their definitions to get a better picture of what has been happening in Detroit. All 3 experiences were powerful and it was a joy to witness volunteers, young and old, pray for these many challenging situations and real people.
Okay, tomorrow Team #1 returns to Ms. Electra to work on a new home and Team #2 heads over to Rippling Hope to do some painting. Looking forward to our next work day, and now off to sleep!