Urban farming has become a platform to promote education, sustainability, and community in Detroit. It’s also inspiring entrepreneurship and fostering a food scene. With more than 1,400 community gardens and the announcement of a $15 million urban-agriculture project, Detroit’s blighted neighborhoods are going green. Detroit Farm and Gardens, a garden supply store, is supplying seeds, soil, and workshops.
Jeff Klein and Andy Ray, owners of Classic Landscape Architecture and Construction, realized there were few places for Detroit’s many urban farmers and backyard gardeners to purchase supplies, especially in bulk. Along with co-owner Brian Allnutt, Klein and Ray opened Detroit Farm and Garden in April 2012, selling organic fertilizer sourced from a local producer and giving away free advice on how to improve soil quality in the many lots contaminated with the vestiges of Detroit’s industrial activity. Slowly, they began to cultivate a community.
“What we ended up doing was designing hills … It’s fun to look at a building that has hills on it.”
Klein was, and is, active in Detroit’s urban farm community, offering his expertise on landscape design, and, from time to time, bulk materials delivery via Classic Landscape’s work vehicle. The store sells soil, animal feed for chickens, goats, and rabbits, as well as seeds, gardening equipment, and everything else a small-scale farm or a backyard gardener needs. Part of its mission is a sharing its point of view about sustainable agriculture. “We don’t sell Roundup,” Klein says of the infamous weed killer. “Certainly people buy it, and it could make us some money, but we’d rather stick to our values, and it opens up a conversation.”
As a landscape architect, Klein saw the number of farm and garden projects in Detroit proper increase throughout the early 2000s, but without a parallel uptick in places to buy supplies. “If we were doing a project in the city and running short on materials, we found that there were not places to get it close by,” Klein says. “Urban agriculture folks were finding the same thing, especially as conscientious, value-minded buyers.”
Detroit Farm and Garden opened in the former garage of Detroit’s 3rd Police Precinct. The business received a $50,000 start-up loan from the Detroit Development Fund. The Erb Foundation, which is dedicated to supporting sustainable communities in Michigan, granted Southwest Solutions, the landlord for the 14,000-square-foot space occupied by Detroit Farm and Garden, $75,000 to install a green roof and stormwater collection system on top of the old garage. “What we ended up doing was designing hills … It’s fun to look at a building that has hills on it.”
Klein and his partners have all made substantial financial sacrifices to keep Detroit Farm and Garden going, especially during the off-season. Detroit’s long winter is tough on a business dedicated to farmers and gardeners. Klein faces those challenges with a blend of realism and optimism. “We opened on a very small amount of money and a lot of sweat equity,” he says. “We’re still here. We signed a 10-year lease, and we’re going into our fifth year. We hope to sign another 10-year lease.” — Annaliese Griffin