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High Tunnel Initiative Brings Local Foods to Detroit

Malik Yakini, Executive Director of the Detroit Black Community Security Network and Manager of D-Town Farms; U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow; NRCS State Conservationist Garry Lee; Southeast Michigan Resource Conservation & Development Council Board President Morse Brown and Ashley Akinson, Executive Director of Keep Growing Detroit (l-r) were together at Detroit’s Eastern Market to announce new funding for city high-tunnels. Photo by Brian Buehler, Public Affairs Specialist, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Michigan

Malik Yakini, Executive Director of the Detroit Black Community Security Network and Manager of D-Town Farms; U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow; NRCS State Conservationist Garry Lee; Southeast Michigan Resource Conservation & Development Council Board President Morse Brown and Ashley Akinson, Executive Director of Keep Growing Detroit (l-r) were together at Detroit’s Eastern Market to announce new funding for city high-tunnels. Photo by Brian Buehler, Public Affairs Specialist, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Michigan

On a cold winter day last week, U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Garry Lee, Michigan State Conservationist from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), visited Detroit’s Eastern Market. They were joined by Malik Yakini, Executive Director of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, Ashley Atkinson, Co-Director of Keep Growing Detroit and Morse Brown, Board President of the Southeast Michigan Resource Conservation and Development Council. Despite the freezing temperatures that will make growing food a challenge for another few months, Garry and the Senator were there to discuss new support for the Detroit-Wayne County Seasonal High Tunnel Education Initiative (SHEI) which will bring new high tunnels – greenhouse-like structures also known as hoop houses – to Detroit’s urban farmers.

Funded by USDA and managed by local organizations, SHEI will train Detroit’s urban growers to install, operate and manage seasonal high tunnels that will conserve natural resources, improve productivity and help them be profitable year round. Easy to build and use, high tunnels were first supported by USDA as a conservation practice in 2010. Since that time, USDA has funded nearly 10,000 across the country. Along with other benefits, high tunnels are providing farmers from Alaska to Baltimore with tools to extend their growing season and provide their communities with fresh, locally-grown produce later into the year.

The announcement at Eastern Market came on the heels of another recent announcement to strengthen Detroit’s regional food system. On February 11, School Food FOCUS, a nonprofit organization specializing in helping school systems procure healthy and sustainable food, announced a partnership with USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service to help Detroit Public Schools improve its capacity and ability to procure fresh, local produce. Through this partnership, DPS will get technical support and guidance to analyze its existing produce supply chain and identify how it – and school districts like it around the country – can develop systems to procure more local food.

Eastern Market is a key partner in both of these projects.  As one of the country’s oldest operating public markets and a pioneering food hub, Eastern Market offers critical services that connect Michigan’s rural producers with market opportunities in the state’s biggest city. USDA has partnered with Eastern Market on several projects including efforts to bring fresh food directly to some of the city’s more distressed neighborhoods, to develop programs that increase access to Michigan-grown produce at farmers markets, and to train producers on food safety and other requirements necessary to sell to wholesale markets.

These efforts are part of USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative, which coordinates the Department’s work to strengthen regional food systems around the country. It is also one example of the Obama Administration’s long-term commitment to working with local leaders and support the economic revitalization of Detroit. As part of that commitment, the President appointed Don Graves, the Executive Director of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, to lead the Administration’s efforts in Detroit in order to provide real, tangible economic development and opportunity with existing resources and public-private partnerships to support and accelerate Detroit’s revitalization. For Detroit, these investments are working to increase access to healthy food utilizing one of the state’s best assets: its rich agricultural tradition.

5 Responses to “High Tunnel Initiative Brings Local Foods to Detroit”

  1. Kim Willis says:

    It’s nice they are still trying to bring “farming” to Detroit and Detroit will always take any money the government offers them if there is no strings attached. But Detroit is not friendly to agriculture despite the catchy little news stories. Be real careful putting up a high tunnel in Detroit even if you manage to get approval. It may get ripped out a few days later by city workers. Remember the nice large orchard of apple trees planted by volunteers who also planned to care for them and that would have provided free organic apples to citizens and Detroit police horses? They had approval too but city workers ripped out the trees when some misguided fools complained that apple trees created dust and attracted rats.

  2. Nicky says:

    What a waist of freakin tax dollars. Is this really helping CONSERVATION of our AGRICULTURAL LAND???

  3. Von says:

    What a great initiative. The opportunities to develop this program to provide fresh produce to school lunch and senior programs along with other food campaigns is limitless. Plus it will give young people the chance to learn about food production in an environment where they would not usually have the exposure to farming techniques. Application for this program is limitless and it should be supported as a win, win on so many levels. Best of luck to the partner organizations and wishing a change of vision for the naysayers.

  4. Bobbie O'Brien says:

    This brings FRESH, organic produce to cities that otherwise would not have. Big corporations have almost run the small farmer out of business and therefore quality food is not always available.

  5. Carol Curtiss says:

    To Kim Willis,
    We must not give up eventhough city workers tear down the Hoop houses. I say put them back up as many times as necessary. It takes a while for all to get the message. I have seen this ignorance turn ever so slightly to knowledge. It takes time and persistance.

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