A few years ago, I got to write a piece for O, The Oprah Magazine about the urban farming movement in the completely fascinating city of Detroit.
Detroit is one of the world's most extreme examples of a shrinking city. The population is less than half what it was in its heyday. Detroit's problems have been so severe and long-lasting, including arson and abandonment, that tearing down houses has long been one of the government's most important jobs. One-third of the land within city limits is now vacant, and there are stretches where the spacing between houses suggests rural North Dakota rather than a big industrial city.
Fortunately, enterprising people like Principal Asenath Andrews and the teachers at Catherine Ferguson Academy, a public school for teenaged mothers and their kids, are now farming some of that wasted land. Farming is an important part of the curriculum at Catherine Ferguson, and Principal Andrews is a visionary who sees a future in which some of these girls will make a living producing better food for the city in the city.
Now Dutch filmmakers Mascha and Manfred Poppenk have made a documentary about Catherine Ferguson called Grown in Detroit that will debut on PBS in Detroit September 22 from 9 to 10 pm.
The movie does a great job of showing how the experience of nature transforms the teenaged mothers at this amazing school. It also captures some of the strange, quiet romance of Detroit, where there seem to be more bicycles than cars because people are too poor to buy cars, where there are goats and haymaking in city neighborhoods, and lots of wonderful people stubbornly insisting that there is something very special and beautiful about any city–even the poorest city–that has the luxury of land for apples, peaches, and tomatoes.