In 1910, African Americans owned nearly 20 million acres of land in the United States, most of it rural farmland. Today, they own less than 8 million acres. In Detroit, where the population is 83 percent black, black farmers want to own land and grow their own food but they have one big problem — it’s almost impossible for them to buy land!
The real problem
The problem is not that Detroit (and other cities in the state of Michigan) don’t have enough land to go around. Detroit has enough acreage to fit all of Manhattan, Boston, and San Francisco. The problem is that most of the land is controlled by speculators and investors, making it difficult for small, black farmers to purchase their own land. Detroit’s City Council is approving the purchase of prime land at below market prices, shutting out black farmers.
Malik Yakini, executive director of the Black Food Security Network, tried to purchase land to build a farm, and after two years, the most he got was a 10-year agreement to use the site. He was unsuccessful in purchasing the property.
Not enough help
The Detroit Land Bank initiative was designed to allow purchasers to buy empty plots of land next to their homes, which they could use to grow their own food. The program has sold 4,000 lots, which might seem like good progress. However, it is a drop in the bucket to the 97,000 lots that are still owned by the city. And it does not help farmers who want to purchase larger lots not next to their homes for growing larger quantities of food.
The whole deal smells like rotten tomatoes. “Food is essential to a quality life, and the fact that it is not available to black people is disheartening and crushing,” says Bianca Danzy, a student farmer at the urban farm Earthworks.
The black population wants to gain access to fresh, healthy food, but the location of many supermarkets are not providing access since one-third of Detroiters do not own a car. All they want is land so they can produce their own food and have a chance to increase their quality of life.
Local urban farming organizations to know about:
Detroit Black Community Food Security Network – www.detroitblackfoodsecurity.org
D-Town Farm – www.d-townfarm.com
Keep Growing Detroit – www.detroitagriculture.net
Detroit Food Justice Task Force – www.detroitfoodjustice.org
Southeast Michigan Producers Association (SEMPA) – www.sempafarmers.com