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Jun 22 / Elizabeth DiNovella

US Social Forum Day 1

The U.S. Social Forum kicked off Tuesday, June 22, in Detroit. The social forum is a gathering of activists from around the country. It’s a chance to catch up, network, and organize under the banner of “another world is possible.” Organizers are expecting as many as 20,000 people to participate.

I tried to register today several times but the lines were incredibly long. At one point registration was closed so folks could participate in the opening march.

Why Detroit? It’s easy to think Detroit as a city of decay, poverty, and violence. But there is so much more to the city.

To give but one example, Detroit has a vibrant community garden scene. Today I went to a workshop about the Greening of Detroit.

Detroit’s population has shrunk to about a quarter of what it was forty or fifty years ago, leaving lots of open green space. But neighborhood groups are transforming these vacant lots into community gardens.

The Detroit Garden Resource Program Collaborative is the hub of this effort. In 2003, four organizations–theĀ Greening of Detroit, Detroit Agriculture Network, EarthWorks Urban Farm/Capuchin Soup Kitchen, and Michigan State University–began working together to provide support for the city’s urban gardeners.

Seven years ago there were 8o community gardens, consisting of neighborhood gardens, backyard patches, and school gardens. By 2009, there were 800 community gardens. This year there are 1200, including some urban farms.

Education, nutrition information, shared tools, workshops (on topics ranging from how to build hoop houses to composting lessons) are some of the things the garden resource program excels at.

A few years ago, gardeners decided to sell the food they produced, starting at local farmers markets. In the first year, they made just under $1000. This year, they expect to rake in between $60,000–$80,000.

And they’ve branched out beyond farmers markets. They’ve created relationships with Detroit restaurants to sell locally produced veggies and fruits.

Ultimately, these community gardens are a way to do community organizing. And that’s what makes it so inspiring–and necessary. And community organizing is at the heart of the US Social Forum.

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