How urban agriculture is transforming Detroit | Devita Davison

How urban agriculture is transforming Detroit | Devita Davison

I’m from Detroit. (Applause) A city that in the 1950s
was the world’s industrial giant, with a population of 1.8 million people and 140 square miles
of land and infrastructure, used to support this booming,
Midwestern urban center. And now today, just a half a century later, Detroit is the poster child
for urban decay. Currently in Detroit,
our population is under 700,000, of which 84 percent are African American, and due to decades of disinvestment and capital flight from the city into the suburbs, there is a scarcity in Detroit. There is a scarcity of retail, more specifically, fresh food retail, resulting in a city
where 70 percent of Detroiters are obese and overweight, and they struggle. They struggle to access
nutritious food that they need, that they need to stay healthy, that they need to prevent premature
illness and diet-related diseases. Far too many Detroiters
live closer to a fast food restaurant or to a convenience store,
or to a gas station where they have to shop for food than they do a full-service supermarket. And this is not good news
about the city of Detroit, but this is the news and the story that Detroiters intend to change. No, I’m going to take that back. This is the story
that Detroiters are changing, through urban agriculture
and food entrepreneurship. Here’s the thing: because of Detroit’s recent history, it now finds itself with some very unique assets, open land being one of them. Experts say that the entire cities
of Boston, San Francisco, and the borough of Manhattan will fit in the land area
of the city of Detroit. They further go on to say that 40 square miles
of the city is vacant. That’s a quarter to a third of the city, and with that level of emptiness, it creates a landscape
unlike any other big city. So Detroit has this —
open land, fertile soil, proximity to water, willing labor and a desperate demand
for healthy, fresh food. All of this has created
a people-powered grassroots movement of people in Detroit who are transforming this city from what was the capital
of American industry into an agrarian paradise. (Applause) You know, I think,
out of all the cities in the world, Detroit, Michigan, is best positioned
to serve as the world’s urban exemplar of food security
and sustainable development. In Detroit, we have over 1,500, yes, 1,500 gardens and farms
located all across the city today. And these aren’t plots of land where we’re just growing
tomatoes and carrots either. You understand, urban agriculture
in Detroit is all about community, because we grow together. So these spaces
are spaces of conviviality. These spaces are places
where we’re building social cohesion as well as providing healthy, fresh food to our friends, our families
and our neighbors. Come walk with me. I want to take you
through a few Detroit neighborhoods, and I want you to see what it looks like
when you empower local leadership, and when you support grassroots movements of folks who are moving the needle
in low-income communities and people of color. Our first stop, Oakland Avenue Farms. Oakland Avenue Farms is located
in Detroit’s North End neighborhood. Oakland Avenue Farms is transforming
into a five-acre landscape combining art, architecture,
sustainable ecologies and new market practices. In the truest sense of the word, this is what agriculture
looks like in the city of Detroit. I’ve had the opportunity
to work with Oakland Avenue Farms in hosting Detroit-grown and made
farm-to-table dinners. These are dinners
where we bring folks onto the farm, we give them plenty
of time and opportunity to meet and greet and talk to the grower, and then they’re taken on a farm tour. And then afterwards,
they’re treated to a farm-to-table meal prepared by a chef who showcases all the produce on the farm
right at the peak of its freshness. We do that. We bring people onto the farm, we have folks sitting around a table, because we want to change
people’s relationship to food. We want them to know
exactly where their food comes from that is grown on that farm
that’s on the plate. My second stop, I’m going to take you
on the west side of Detroit, to the Brightmoor neighborhood. Now, Brightmoor is
a lower-income community in Detroit. There’s about 13,000
residents in Brightmoor. They decided to take
a block-by-block-by-block strategy. So within the neighborhood of Brightmoor, you’ll find a 21-block microneighborhood
called Brightmoor Farmway. Now, what was a notorious,
unsafe, underserved community has transformed into a welcoming,
beautiful, safe farmway, lush with parks and gardens
and farms and greenhouses. This tight-knit community
also came together recently, and they purchased an abandoned building, an abandoned building
that was in disrepair and in foreclosure. And with the help of friends
and families and volunteers, they were able to take down
the bulletproof glass, they were able to clean up the grounds and they transformed that building
into a community kitchen, into a cafe, into a storefront. Now the farmers and the food artisans
who live in Brightmoor, they have a place where they
can make and sell their product. And the people in the community have some place where they can buy
healthy, fresh food. Urban agriculture —
and this is my third example — can be used as a way to lift up
the business cooperative model. The 1,500 farms and gardens
I told you about earlier? Keep Growing Detroit
is a nonprofit organization that had a lot to do with those farms. They distributed last year
70,000 packets of seeds and a quarter of a million transplants, and as a result of that last year, 550,000 pounds of produce was grown in the city of Detroit. (Applause) But aside from all of that, they also manage
and operate a cooperative. It’s called Grown in Detroit. It consists of about 70 farmers, small farmers. They all grow, and they sell together. They grow fruits, they grow vegetables, they grow flowers, they grow herbs in healthy soil, free of chemicals,
pesticides, fertilizers, genetically modified products — healthy food. And when their product is sold all over the city of Detroit
in local markets, they get a hundred percent
of the proceeds from the sale. In a city like Detroit, where far too many, far too many
African Americans are dying as a result of diet-related diseases, restaurants, they have a huge role to play in increasing healthy food access
in the city of Detroit, culturally appropriate restaurants. Enter Detroit Vegan Soul. Yes, we have a vegan soul food restaurant
in the city of Detroit. (Applause) Yes, yes. Detroit Vegan Soul
is providing Detroiters the opportunity to eat more plant-based meals and they’ve received an overwhelming
response from Detroiters. Detroiters are hungry
for culturally appropriate, fresh, delicious food. That’s why we built a nonprofit
organization called FoodLab Detroit, to help small neighborhood
burgeoning food entrepreneurs start and scale healthy food businesses. FoodLab provides
these entrepreneurs incubation, hands-on education, workshops, technical assistance,
access to industry experts so that they can grow and scale. They’re very small businesses, but last year, they had a combined revenue of over 7.5 million dollars, and they provided 252 jobs. Listen. (Applause) These are just a few examples on how you expand opportunities so that everybody can participate and prosper, particularly those
who come from neighborhoods that have been historically excluded
from these types of opportunities. I know, I know. My city is a long way from succeeding. We’re still struggling, and I’m not going to stand here
on this stage and tell you that all of Detroit’s problems
and all of Detroit’s challenges are going to be solved
through urban agriculture. I’m not going to do that, but I will tell you this: urban agriculture
has Detroit thinking about its city now in a different way, a city that can be both urban and rural. And yes, I know, these stories are small, these stories are
neighborhood-based stories, but these stories are powerful. They’re powerful because I’m showing you
how we’re creating a new society left vacant in the places and the spaces
that was disintegration from the old. They’re powerful stories
because they’re stories about love, the love that Detroiters have
for one another, the love that we have for our community,
the love that we have for Mother Earth, but more importantly,
these stories are stories on how devastation, despair, decay never ever get the last word
in the city of Detroit. When hundreds of thousands
of people left Detroit, and they left us for dead,
those who stayed had hope. They held on to hope. They never gave up. They always kept fighting. And listen, I know, transforming a big city like Detroit
to one that is prosperous, one that’s functional, one that’s healthy, one that’s inclusive,
one that provides opportunities for all, I know it’s tough, I know it’s challenging, I know it’s hard. But I just believe that if we start strengthening
the social fabric of our communities, and if we kickstart economic opportunities
in our most vulnerable neighborhoods, it all starts with healthy, accessible, delicious, culturally appropriate food. Thank you very much. (Applause) Thank you.

100 thoughts on “How urban agriculture is transforming Detroit | Devita Davison

  • Things could be 1000x better if they got government out of the way. Detroit is a perfect example of what happens when you start asking the taxpayer to fund everything…. get out of the way, let people uplift themselves out of poverty. Detroit has talented people that can't do anything because they have so many horrible laws that prohibit them from easily starting jobs, easily reclaim land, easily make their lives better.

    PRO TIP: Don't be afraid of profit. Profit is sustainability for anyone… profit allows you to adjust and expand, or re-invest. Beware of the hate for profit. Profit isn't Greed. Profit in the hands of good people allows great things to happen, especially when no government is protecting the bad ones.

    Detroit, you have the talent, set them free to do great things.

  • Agriculture? Why don't they just GROW WEED? At least the residents of Detroit can get high and forget about their misery.

  • This whole speech is the equivalent of saying: “North Korea is a disease infested, malnourished country with a population that is abused by an evil tyrannical dictator, but we are going to solve this problem; By bringing them the worlds finest wine vineyard!”

  • I like Detroit the way it is. With all the abandoned buildings, homeless population, and drive-by shootings, it's a unique open-air museum our industrial age has to offer. Leave it the way it is!

  • She is telling this is a city, which makes me assume there is some pollution. I'm sure there are more gasoline vehicles than in normal rural spaces. It was an urban environment with heavy industry factories… But if I'm wrong, and the air and soil safe for growing food, that is nice.

  • TED has published a video where a speaker mentions GMOs alongside pesticides meaning these are bad. This project is going down the hill (

  • Why limit yourself to AGRICULTURE? With such talented population, why don't you leapfrog Silicon Valley and become the hub for future technology, such as A.I., biotech, etc.? Once the city is RICH, supermarkets will fight to deliver fresh healthy food to your door. Aim high, Detroit!

  • Man I told you community gardens is where it’s at! Show a little love to your saviour. We gonna be smoking, drinking and chilling 🎵

  • Yes! Yes! Yes! THIS is what is drawing me to move to Detroit once my son graduates from college and sets off on his own. I lived in the region many years ago and have always considered Detroit to be my second hometown. Part of my heart belongs there and it's telling me to come home.

  • I do not see how this is good news – even for Detroit. A city is not farmland. If its farmland then its not a city.

  • With modern technology you can pretty much grow anything, anywhere.So i'm not impressed by that. The question really is how much it costs. If its going to be cheaper to import carrots from a predominantly agricultural state or even a country then no one will buy those Detroit vegetables.

  • I prefer speakers that have control over their emotions. Especially switching between very angry and happy seems so artificial. And sorry but, a hypocrite is someone that doesnt live what she teaches. And what does it look like if a obviously overweight person talks about healthy food? And whats especially unprofessionell? If you donate to africa, If you help a person on the street, you dont think "oh i´m helping a black person". I think i am helping people. And she tries really hard to sound lika a black lifes matter activist. Speaks for itself.
    But still, good to see that new people try to grow healthy food every day.

  • her voice / way of speaking is causing cancer in my ears.
    the main problem is not the fact there are more gas stations than full service supermarkets, the main problem is people getting shot on de wey to the supermarket. Find de wey to make streets secure and people will rebuild their grocery shops and all the other stuff you want

  • That's really interesting because I just heard that Farmer's Markets are predominantly white so supporting them makes you a racist! I don't want to be a racist so I will mind my own business and tend my own garden….

  • It all came about after a project I worked on to design a green subdivision with many others. I thought I could do more and started gathering info. That was when G+ was still invite only. A village is a 50 million dollar undertaken. Then broke it down to a what I call Dartanyan's Restaurant & Farm but again that was 5 million dollar undertaken. So I decided trying a homeless shelter with my knowledge.

    1.9848 acre per person living in a sustainable village (234 people and 464.4432 acres for the village)
    80% crafted, made and grown in said village And 20% are raw materials, food not grown, medical equipment/supplies, electronics and etc.

    – 0.6250 acre of farmland/person (146.2500ac)
    – 0.0892 acre of farmland products to be sold/person (20.8728ac)
    – 0.2321 acre of living area/person (54.3114ac)
    – 0.0214 acre of wine vineyards/person (5.0076ac)
    – 0.0714 acre of ponds/person (16.7076ac)
    – 0.1069 acre of coffee/person or 3,456 trees (25.0146ac) [555 trees/2.4711 acres or 1 Hectare]
    – 0.0071 acre of teas/person (1.6614ac)
    – 0.0142 acre of herbs/person (3.3228ac)
    – 0.1428 acre of schools/person (33.4152ac)
    – 0.2142 acre of park & wildlife/person (50.1228ac)
    – 0.1428 acre of village square/person (33.4152ac)
    – 0.1785 acre of livestock/person (41.7690ac)
    – 0.1392 acre of roads & etc/person (32.5728ac)

    By using a mix of permaculture and aquaponics which in turn use 90% less water to grow food and a minimum of twice as fast :

    * Reduces Labor by 75%
    * Reuses 95% of the water
    * Low Electricity Need (use solar to stay off the grid)
    * Faster Vegetable
    * Longer Shelf Life
    * Organic Mineral Rich
    * Produces Its own Fertilizer
    * Non-Contaminated Fish
    * Use of Tiger Shrimp &/or Crawfish to clean algae
    * Uses of the Bacteria and fecal matter are collected to make Methane in place of natural gas &/or Decomposed solids to worm bin which turn is used to make Compost Tea is brewed from worm casting and water. The tea can be used for Fruit Orchard to increase Microbial Content in the soil.

    The Helpful Garden

    The idea is to design a homeless shelter using Aquaponics and permaculture to feed them as well as make money for them. Each place will have 9 to 13 (12 x 18) 216 sq ft building for living in. So the "Helpful Garden" will be shelter to up to 13 people as well as a farmers market. The one thing about homeless shelters is that one can be built every 80 miles about or so. I can see a minimum of 3000 homeless shelters of the "Helpful Garden" being built worldwide. (Powered by solar & wind) To build said place is about $500,000 depending where it built. Though it won't need donation or government grants to run for all it's money comes from it farmers market.

    40% profit breakdown:

    Money needed for sheltered women: $15,000/each allotted to each tiny home each year. plus stables (Example: coffee, sugar, flour, salt and pepper)

    60% profit breakdown:

    10% to building new Helpful Gardens
    20% to maintenance
    15% to college grants
    15% to etc.

    Budget : $500,000

    1.) Land : 3+ acres (Budget $25,000.00 or less)
    2.) Tiny Homes: 9 to 13 (12 x 18) 216 sq ft [on ½ acre] (Budget $156,000.00 or less)
    3.) Intake Office: 600 Sq ft (Budget $25,000.00 or less)
    4.) Farmers Market: ½ acre (Budget $45,000.00 or less)
    5.) Parking Lot: ¼ acre (Budget $5,000.00)
    6.) Aquaponics and Permaculture Farm: 1 ¾ acres (Budget $109,000.00 or more)

    a.) Up to 3 different fish
    b.) Tiger shrimp
    c.) Crayfish
    d.) 3 different apple and pears trees so [to have them throughout the year]
    e.) Citrus trees like lemons, oranges and 2 two others.
    f.) Chickens (meat and eggs)
    g.) Goats (milk and cheese)
    h.) Honey Bees 4 to 6 hives
    i.) 2 fig trees (maybe)
    j.) Freshwater mussels (maybe)
    k.) Rabbits (maybe)

    Powered : [Total Budget $135,000.00]

    1.) Solar (Budget $90,000)
    a.) Tiny Homes 13 set of 4 – 250 watt cell with light sensors (52 solar cells) cost between $27,287.00 and $36,387.00
    b.) Aquaponics System – (?)
    c.) Intake Office – set of 6 – 250 watt cell with light sensors
    (cost between $3,148.50 and $4,198.50)
    d.) Farmers Market – (?)

    2.) Wind Power – (Budget $45,000)
    a.) Windmill electric generator 15 to 30 KW cost between $18,000 – $48,000

    Just some working notes:

    Payroll for security : $3,900/wk $16,900/mo $202,800/yr
    3 full time: ($24/hr) $2,880/wk $12,480/mo $149,760/yr
    4 part time: 17 hour work week ($15/hr) $1,020/wk $4,420/mo $53,040/yr

    Payroll for gardeners : same as security

    Volunteers : 36 (though it's like $6/hr to help pay for their gas and childcare if needed).
    $4,320/wk $18,720/mo $224,640/yr

    Total payroll : $427,440/yr

    Money needed for sheltered women: $144,000/yr or $12,000/each allotted to each tiny home (12)
    Money of the other 60% profit equals $270,000

    $450,000 plus payroll equals $958,769.04
    Needed $263.34/[email protected]/[email protected]/wk=$958,769.04

    235,000 lbs vegetables
    @$0.5/lb=$32.28/hr or 64.56 lbs/hr or 645.5 lbs/day

    30,000 lbs fish/crayfish/shrimp
    @ $3/lbs = $247.251/day or $90,000.00/yr

    These are all low ball figures
    $174,720 online sales per year
    $117,500 vegetable sale per year
    $90,000.00 meat sales per year
    $500 honey sales per year

    At point soda sales per year

    Snack & hot food sale per year

    Cloths & wares sales per year

    Frozen food sales per year

    Canning goods sales per year

    Dairy/cheese sales per year

  • all u need is air, food and water and some kind of shelter to live in . we should all stop using money and grow and raise ur own food. the rich are only rich because everyone uses there money to build this world. there is a better way without money , and let the lazy rich die off because 90% of them cant even feed themselfs without money.

  • So far this has been a good talk. Except when she said that "Grown in Detroit" doesn't grow Genectically modified food (GMO's). Miss. Davison, almost everything organic is a GMO. I'm willing to bet that everything that is for sale there is a product of GMO.

  • Devita Davison for mayor of Detroit! Wow! Just Wow! I live in Cali but now I'm thinking I'd love to come visit Detroit. God bless Detroit with health and prosperity.

  • I would have enjoyed listening, but the presenter is too aggressive-sounding, too harsh, almost accusatory in tone. There's lots to be mad about, but you can't be angry and aggressive ALL the time; your presentation becomes un-listenable.

  • I think its much better spread the seeds in the city to grow vegetables and fruits then let the crime spread everyday more and more .
    Congratulation for this smart project!!

  • I cannot express how wonderful i think this is, and how happy i am that the American ideal of working through problems is being showcased in detroit

  • Sound like presenter does not feel happy and proud, but feel angry that her community has to work for things others have in reach of a hand. Like driven by envy. But she is presenting so amazing things that I feel confused…

  • i grew up in Detroit, went to University in Detroit, and play soccer all the time in Belle Isle.. I love the Dirty D, but this chick's "spoken word" approach to this speech was a turn off.. I couldn't finish it.. btw she left out the UAW, they fucked my city

  • The the truth would hurt more than being politically correct . People hurt themselves and blame others . Look deep into your own culture lady, the answers are infront of you. We all know it but afraid of the backlash from the people that cause the problem.

  • The preacher thing gets your attention, but three minutes in it's too much, and in five minutes you actively hate Detroit

  • 🐝🍅🕊This is one of the BEST TED talks I have ever heard! TY for sharing! Farming grows peace, abundance, health, love 🕊🍅🐝

  • I'm all behind urban agriculture, but her presentation screams of of a film-flam artist. I almost expected her to promote a potion that would rid people of the rickets.

  • I LOVE Detroit Vegan Soul – the restaurant is delicious! Also just met a volunteer/staff member of Keep Growing Detroit! Looking forward to getting involved!


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