hero of the people

it seems the media would like to portray urban agriculture in detroit, and the world in general as a recent event.  this of course is completely wrong, urban agriculture has been happening as long as there have been cities, and especially in places like sub saharan africa and southeast asia it has always been a rich part of the urban fabric .  the divorce of farming activities from cities is really a recent event in north american communities.

in detroit we often trace the history to mayor hazen pingree.

back in 1893 the city, and the rest of the country was in the worst economic slump the county had ever seen until that point.  prior to this economic down turn the city was growing rapidly, and much of the land that was undeveloped within the city and close to the city was being held by land speculators.  faced with thousands unemployed and over 6,000 acres of land underutilized, pingree pled for donations of tools and seeds – going so far as to sell his prized horse to fund the efforts.  the first year over 900 families farmed on over 400 acres.  in the coming years it would continue to grow, and inspire many other cities throughout the country to adopt similar programs.  these continued to grow, but as the economy improved, and land became more valuable, the programs lost favor, and poor were forced off of the land they had been tending.  the programs became a distance memory.

for this reason pingree is often celebrated and refered to as hazen “potato patch” pingree.  knowing what i know about people, i suspect that pingree’s brilliant potato patch idea was just following the lead of innovative people who had already started squatting unused land.  in addition to pingree’s potato patches, his warnings of corporations always brings a smile to my face when i see it.

for more info about the history of community gardens in the united states, i highly recommend laura lawson’s city bountiful.


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