MSU launches partnership for urban agriculture in Detroit

MSU Today

A Detroit neighborhood will host Michigan State University’s first urban food research center, developing solutions to economic and nutritional challenges unique in urban environments.

The MSU Detroit Partnership for Food, Learning and Innovation will break ground during the first half of 2018 at the site of the former Houghton Elementary School in the Riverdale neighborhood, near Brightmoor. Urban-focused research areas envisioned for the center include soil sampling and pollution cleanup, pest and crop disease management, forestry, innovative growing systems and community food systems development.

“This research and extension center grew from years of discussions with Detroit leaders and residents. It’s an exciting new milestone after 100 years of Michigan State service in the community,” MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon said. “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.”

The center will enhance efforts to open opportunities for urban agriculture entrepreneurship and offer new partnerships for community and youth development, MSU Extension Director Jeff Dwyer said.

“Downtown Detroit has seen a resurgence and transformation over the last several years and the neighborhoods have focused on blight and cleaning up abandoned houses,” Dwyer said. “Our goal, however, is to focus on the health and growth opportunities for neighborhoods throughout the city.”

MSU has been working closely with neighborhood residents to determine programming focus areas. That collaboration will continue throughout the partnership.

Detroit Mayor Michael Duggan praised MSU for its work when addressing nearly 700 MSU Extension faculty and staff members during their annual professional development conference in October.

“The neighborhoods are our foundation here in Detroit,” Duggan said. “We have a saying in the planning department when it comes to projects: Nothing without us is about us. And throughout this process, the neighbors were very engaged and had significant input.”

Duggan added that the development of this partnership is “an opportunity to create an agricultural economy where Detroiters could 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?”

The center continues MSU’s 100-year tradition of working with Detroit partners to offer free or low-cost programs that meet community needs.

“We have staff members who are passionate about Detroit,” Dwyer said. “Many have already partnered with neighborhood organizations to help enhance existing opportunities. Our goal is not to replace the good work that is already being done in Brightmoor and Riverdale, but to work with the community to bring new ideas to the table that everyone can embrace.”

MSU already provides programs with Detroit partners, including:

• Cooking classes for seniors and teens through MSU Extension.

• A LEGO Robotics class that builds science, technology, engineering and math skills for local youth in collaboration with the Urban Country Tea House in Brightmoor.

• A pollinator garden that encourages bees and other beneficial insects to flourish. The project, led jointly MSU Extension’s ArtShare and the Cross Pollination Corridor, includes a community produced street mural that helped transform a blighted dead-end street in Brightmoor.

• Homeownership education classes for the employees of Detroit Manufacturing Systems, an automotive supplier. Similar classes focused on buying and retaining a home will be hosted in the Riverdale center.

• A health and nutrition after-school program for elementary-age youth, which will begin in January.

• Gardening classes through MSU Extension and partners at Wellspring that will begin in February.

Although this is the university’s first urban-based center focused on food research, MSU Extension offers educational opportunities at 13 other AgBioResearch centers throughout the state as well at numerous locations in every Michigan county. The new center will host the fourth MSU Extension office in Detroit. Offices at the Eastern Market, YouthVille and Focus Hope will continue to serve area residents.