Documentary highlights Detroit urban agriculture


The New Brunswick Community Food Alliance hosted a screening of the documentary “Urban Roots” last night in the Civic Square at the Mason Gross School of the Arts in an effort to ignite a desire among residents for community gardening and local food development.

The documentary followed community members in Detroit, Mich., who created their own urban agriculture spaces after they were hit with the devastation from the periods of recession and auto bailouts.

After many businesses failed, Detroit was left with high levels of unemployment and abandoned vacant lots, which residents began to turn into urban farms to create a grassroots effort of business opportunity through food and agriculture.

“The movie is about rebirth and how Detroit — which has historically piggybacked on the auto industry throughout the 1900s — has transformed itself and created a more sustainable model in the future and reinvented itself, made a new Detroit for the future,” said Anthony Capece, NBCFA organizer.

Capece said the screening is a part of an NBCFA initiative to present interested gardeners in the area with the idea that they have the capability to achieve progress similar to that of Detroit.

“What’s really inspiring about the movie is that these people got hit pretty hard by the whole recession, and they are still finding a way to make something wonderful and beautiful for their community,” he said. “We can look at [this] and see what is possible.”

He said he believes this can be accomplished in the area because there are residents who are willing to pursue these efforts, and it is only a matter of collaborating with these residents and incorporating the ideas into a movement that nurtures action.

Even though New Brunswick has not suffered from the same setbacks as Detroit, the residents can look at the film as inspiration and hopefully accomplish the same thing, said Gabriella Aron, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences sophomore.

“It’s something New Brunswick can really look to for a good model. … We have space that we can be reconverting into a regenerative, restorative business model — like an urban farm or more farmer’s markets for people to get to know their community and the producers,” she said.

One of the main issues regarding local food development is the food system itself, Capece said, which makes it considerably difficult for local farmers to prosper and provide their own communities with a trustworthy option.

“[There] are increasingly large farms [on] the national scale, and it’s hard for small guys or girls to start their own farm. If there are fewer farmers, there is less fresh food available, and it is less likely for there to be a farm close to where you live,” he said.

Capece said the NBCFA consists of many different organizations and sponsors who serve as a coalition in the effort to generate a system of work and dialogue with the city’s residents.

“What we try to do in the alliance is build a just and reliable food system in New Brunswick and fostering community gardening and agriculture is one way to address the problem. It allows for healthy food to be in the system and gives people access to it,” he said.

Accessibility is a significant issue in the community, Aron said, because the amount of access to local, organic food is minimal and places that do sell these foods can be unaffordable for many of the city’s residents.

“It is the accessibility and also the media coverage, the advertising of the healthy foods,” she said. “Maybe they don’t want to try out [foods] that are more nourishing because they haven’t been exposed to it yet.”

Steven Gryszel, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said he was unaware of Detroit’s background and the efforts taking place.

“I don’t know the land use part of it, but I feel as though it could happen considering that this is an involved University, and there are a lot of people willing to take part in the action and in the community,” Gryszel said.

Aron said she hopes to show a different type of culture in food and work to make healthier options more available.

“It’s a great challenge, but it’s the best one,” she said. “It’s going to increase the quality of our lives and help us get to know each other and get us to become comfortable in our ecologies and landscapes that we weren’t so familiar with before.”

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