Food security for cities: Getting serious about urban farming

Urban farming isn't a new idea, but what Michigan State University (MSU) and the city of Detroit are doing may be a tactic cities working to become smarter, more sustainable and more livable should consider. The university and the city are focusing on nutrition and food production with the creation of an urban food research center. But they also see the programs they're planning as ways to support and encourage economic growth, at the neighborhood level. — Doug Peeples


The MSU Detroit Partnership for Food, Learning and Innovation will break ground in the first half of 2018 in the city's Riverdale neighborhood for an urban food research center. The mission? To come up with ways to solve economic and nutritional problems common in urban environments.

But the partners aren't waiting for construction to be completed before getting to work. MSU has already been in close contact with neighborhood residents to determine what programs they think are needed, and that collaboration is expected to continue.

What the partners envision
While MSU and the city are working out specifics, they see the need for research in soil sampling, cleaning up pollution, pest and crop disease management, forestry, new approaches to growing systems and developing community food systems. And the program will be about more than growing your own food. It's also expected to create opportunities for entrepreneurship in urban agriculture.

"Food production is an increasingly urban global challenge and Detroit has the potential to be the kind of innovator in food systems that it's long been for automobiles," said MSU President Lou Anna Simon in a statement.

Detroit Mayor Michael Duggan strongly supports the food research center and its neighborhood approach and said the partnership is "an opportunity to create an agricultural economy where Detroiters can eat better and create a base of employment. What could be better than taking the greatest agricultural university in the world and partnering with a city that has available space to work together?"

Hitting the ground running
MSU Extension Director Jeff Dwyer said many staff members have already begun working with neighborhood organizations to help them develop opportunities. And it doesn't hurt that the MSU Extension has many existing programs that are compatible with the food research center's mission, including cooking classes for seniors and teens, a pollinator garden project, health and nutrition programs as well as gardening classes scheduled to start in early 2018.

Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.