Blog: Kari M. Smith

The return to local farming in urbanized areas is a page back in the history books, but lessons can't all be taught in the classroom. Green Diva Farms owner Kari Smith, who daylights as a historic review technician for the city of Detroit, talks about the barter system and how her farm stands up against flooding and hoop house vandalism.

Why Be a Small Farmer in Southeast Michigan?

So what is it like to be a small farmer in Southeast Michigan?? It is tough and rewarding. It is more common for people to choose organically grown foods now than ever before, but the percentage is still low. Many people are on a budget and buying the least expensive food possible. This puts small farmers using organic growing practices at a loss. It costs more to produce organic foods, therefore they have to sell for a higher price, but if no one buys them the farmer is at a total loss. Understanding the importance of organic foods and the effect they have on health is often one way to express the importance of high quality produce.

Organic gardening has always been part of my life. From a young child I would help my mother in the garden, where she would teach me about the plants, and vegetables and the health benefits associated with them. My parents were late-blooming hippies, or hippies of the late 70s and early 80s. We were the first family I knew that were vegetarians, and were constantly made fun of in school for our avocado on rice cake sandwiches and hand grown peppers with tahini dip.

Growing up with this background gave me a feeling of devotion to the earth, which I acted on by growing healthy foods, plants and flowers. I never went to school for farming, but rather learned from the professionals, older farmers with the know how to be successful. Green Diva Farms grew out of a desire to provide healthy, no-spray, organically grown foods to communities that have limited access to them. The main target for the farm is Ypsilanti and Detroit. The farm was originally intended to be temporary, (through graduate school) but has proved successful and continues to thrive. It has to compete for my time though, as I have another life as a historic preservationist in Detroit.

Many people understand the value of organic produce but only want the cheapest option. So how to bridge the gap? This has been the tough part. I find that providing educational tools, photos of the farm, and allowing taste testing to happen have all helped. "Try this cherry tomato; it is called a sunburst because it tastes like summer sunshine." Yes, I have had to become a salesman of sorts, but I believe in the quality of Green Diva's organically grown produce so I feel good about connecting with my internal salesman.

Another positive way to bridge the gap is through providing a variety of products. Adding variety, color and lively display to the market table is also effective.  I grow flowers, make organic treats, sell handmade crafts, create bouquets, and sell them along with my produce. The outlets for our products include the Ypsilanti Downtown and Depot Town markets, CSA, and the People's Food Co-op. Green Diva is currently in the midst of finding a good spot to start a secondary location in Detroit. Our CSA is open to Detroiters in the meantime.  

Everyone who is involved in the current state of the economy of Michigan can attest to the fact that times are tough. This includes small farmers, who have a crucial role in building community, as well as a constant fight to sustain themselves and their farms while providing local, healthy foods. Green Diva Farms knows that many people are interested in where their food comes from and the health benefits involved. Educational tools can be used to help guide people to food sources that can benefit the community, and their own personal health. Growing Hope has held many classes introducing foods and the health benefits of certain foods. These types of classes and the double-up food buck program for food assistance recipients encourage healthy lifestyles and provide knowledge.

The rewarding aspects of being a small farmer may be individual. For me, they involve being part of an important movement and helping people find healthier produce. Picking and growing flowers creates beauty, which I feel is very important. I always try to have fresh flowers in my house, and want others to enjoy them as well. I put endless time and energy into flower bouquets. When people are suffering, as many in southeast Michigan are, bringing beauty into their lives can be very impactful.