Lessons from Detroit: Growing Healthy Communities by Working with what We’ve Got

Alyssa Charney is a Service Member in Red Lodge.

detroit1As I furiously packed, attempted to reschedule three days of classes, and rushed away early from our annual Food Partnership Council celebration, I couldn’t help but be a bit frustrated that the midyear FoodCorps gathering in Detroit was pulling me away from a busy schedule of spring preparations and the last few months in a community that has very much become home.

But alas, I left Red Lodge at 4AM on Saturday and headed to Detroit.

Someone once told me that what’s happening in Detroit should be a model for the way rural communities can also rebuild themselves after significant population decline. Instead of trying to bring back all the people who left, Detroit is working with what it’s got, building off of opportunities that have come about from the challenges.

Detroit has lost half of its population within the past fifty years, and as a result, efforts across the city are focused on reviving and repurposing abandoned lots and neighborhoods through urban agriculture. We visited and volunteered at D-Town Farm, Flint River Farm, Earth Works Urban Farm, or the Catherine Ferguson Academy for Young Women, learning from the innovators who are rebuilding Detroit, literally from the ground up.

Detroit’s approach of tapping into the resources that it already has can be a model for rebuilding rural and urban communities throughout the country. Our midyear gathering reminded me that as FoodCorps members spread out across the country, we, like Detroit, are also figuring out how to “work with what we’ve got.” We’re all in communities that are resilient in their own ways, and there is no single cookie cutter “FoodCorps approach” that can be applied at all sites.

Alyssa gives her Food Talk at the Detroit Mid-year gathering which you can see here!

Hearing stories of bread making, native seeds, and young culinary rock stars from across the country reminded me that the true strength of FoodCorps is the adaptability and creativity of each service member, thriving within communities that are all so very unique. And FoodCorps staff are also tirelessly working to build a FoodCorps that works for each community – taking the time in Detroit to hear from us about how the program’s structure can be modified and improved based on our experiences.

And so as I made my way back home from Detroit, I felt lucky to be returning to a community that offers so much creativity and support to my work everyday, and also lucky to be part of a national network of service members, fellows, and FoodCorps staff who, like Detroit, are working to build healthy food systems with the resources that are uniquely available within each community.