Blog: Patrick Crouch

Patrick Crouch is the program manager of the Capuchin Soup Kitchen's Earthworks Urban Farm.  He is an organic farmer, a community gardener, beekeeper, forager of wild foods and herbs, and fermenter of foods and ideas.  He has spent the last six years farming the urban lands of Detroit and working for safe food for all peoples of Detroit.  You can read more about his day-to-day adventures in Detroit in his blog, Little House on the Urban Prairie.
Patrick Crouch - Most Recent Posts:

Post 4: A Resilient Economy for Detroit in the Post Industrial Age

When folks come to Detroit, they often remark on the how quickly the economy of Detroit has slipped after the '68 rebellion. This of course is an illusion, and for any one who wants to learn more about the process of Detroit's change, I highly recommend Thomas Sugrue's Origin Of the Urban Crisis.

When people talk about Detroit's economic decline they fail to recognize that essentially the town is a one-trick pony built on a single industry; industrial manufacturing for a foreign market. When I say foreign, I mean outside of the direct community or bioregion, not necessary out of the country. The point is that Detroit is almost completely dependent on a foreign market, and when others are able to provide those goods and services at a cheaper price we are going to lose those markets.

So if Detroit is essentially a boomtown why would I have any hope for it? Well, unlike most boomtowns Detroit is strategically located for the post-petroleum economy. It's surrounded by fresh water, in a temperate climate, surrounded by good quality farmland (that is if folks would stop developing it into suburbs), a natural crossing point between two large land masses, and a natural transportation hub because of its location on the river and across from Canada.

What would an economic development plan look like that addressed the needs of the domestic market? The first would be the acknowledgment of what we need: shelter, water, air, food, clothing, community, and spirituality. What if we took the time to reflect on what we don't need: flat screen TVs, automobiles, computers, cell phones, and iPods. I'd argue that the reason that we all have so much desire for the things we don't need is an attempt to fill the void created by a lack of community and spirituality, a sickness of "progress".

With so many resources now rededicated to our needs and not our desires, just think how quickly our whole community could be thriving, not just surviving. Not just thriving because all needs are addressed, but because the work benefits the community and the work is not just a job, but has meaning.

That's all well and good, but what are some examples of products that folks would manufacture for the domestic market? And wouldn't these jobs be lost as soon as other areas are able to manufacture them for cheaper? And how can Detroit possibly support all the people living in her city limits just based on a domestic market?

These are all excellent questions if I do say so myself. I did, after all, come up with them.

The first thing we have to acknowledge is the coming difficulty of peak oil and climate change. This makes it a whole different game. Very soon, materials will be expensive and difficult to ship, foreign trade will be a fraction of what it is today, and it will be very specific goods, ones not available in our bioregion, and extremely valuable. By creating the domestic economy now, we prepare ourselves for those difficult times ahead. Even with this focus on serving the needs of Detroit this still means large portions of the populace will be without work.

I have two answers for this. The first is that I believe a mass exodus from the city will take place, a re-ruralization. Since farms will shrink (see previous post on regenerative agriculture), more people will have access to land, more people will be needed to farm, and food will be a product with real value again. It won't just be those folks wanting to be farmers that will be moving out to the country, it will also be all those needed to support them; the blacksmiths, tailors, and feed stores operators.

The second answer is that cities like Detroit, ones that are strategically located, will still maintain their function as hubs for small manufacturing and trading to support outlying communities, so there will be other jobs that support the bioregions needs in addition.

So what does this all look like? What are the jobs that come out of this economy? I've just brainstormed a few ideas off the top of my head:

Food. Farmers, compost operations, small greenhouse manufacturers, storage facilities, food processing, small scale retail locations and co-ops, brownfield remediation, windmill manufacturers and operations for food processing, cafes, distribution and transportation, farmers co-op managers, plus all the manufacturing of the tools that are needed to support these endeavors.

Shelter. Building of new shelters, retrofitting old houses, deconstruction of old facilities, installation and manufacturing of low tech heating/cooling solutions, manufacturing of building materials, architects, distribution, and transportation of materials.

Air. I sure hope that we don't get to the point where we have to manufacture air. In the meantime, installation and maintenance of plantings, forests, and parks for improved air quality is the only thing that comes to mind.

Water. Rain water catchment system manufacture and installation, low tech windmills for water pumping, passive solar/waste heat hot water heater construction and installation, water purification systems.

Clothing. Leather tannery, processing of agriculture products into yarn/thread, weaving mills, tailors, cobblers, processors of old cloth into new products.

Spirituality. Musicians, artists, and poets. There is a lot of overlap here with community.

Community. Managers of co-operative housing, quartermasters for tool banks, community kitchen managers, storytellers, teachers, managers of open spaces – forests, parks, and farms, community organizers, caregivers.

Please feel free to add some.

Post 3: Toward a regenerative culture, toward a regenerative community

Sustainability is all the rage, but when we challenge ourselves to come up with creative solutions, why stop at sustainability?  Why not have a goal of regeneration for our planet and our people?  Why not the goal of making things better instead of just being sustainable?

Food is one of our most basic needs, and yet our current system causes huge amounts of destruction to our society and our environment in the process of food production.  I question if something so important as food should even be allowed to be treated as a commodity to be bought and sold on the world market. I'm of the opinion that we should treat safe food as a right of all people, just the same as access to air, fresh water, and shelter.

What would a regenerative agricultural system look like?  I'm not altogether certain, but I do think there are some basic values that will be important.

Respect for all.  That means people, plants, animals, soils, and water are not seen as just commodities.  This means no poisoning and exploiting workers and giving them fair wages. This means giving animals the chance to act as animals, not confined protein generators as they are now.  This means protecting our soils and waters.
Diverse.  Both in the forms of crops and the people growing them.  Unless you count migrant laborers, women and minorities are completely underrepresented in the farming community.    A multitude of crops and animals should be grown, both to reduce chances of crop loss and to create better integrated systems.

Efficient.  Currently one farmer feeds 144 people.  You might say that's efficient, but I think we need to view efficiency in a different light.  That sounds like a lot of unemployed people.  Human, animal, and plant power are more efficient than almost any device we can design.  Try powering a tractor on hay – maybe if you turn it into ethanol, but its waste can't be used to fertilize the soil, like a horse's can. And it's still going to be putting out carbon dioxide, and don't get me started on the embodied energy in the tractor.

Decentralized.  Currently food travels an average of 1,400 miles from seed to plate. That's hugely wasteful as well as very dangerous.  Our current food scares are related to these huge centralized processing systems where small problems turn into big ones. Plus local food systems are more stable and better able to serve the people that live in the area.

Small.  Large farms have only come into existence as a result of mechanization.  As we move to a more regenerative agriculture we have to rely less and less on brute force and more on thoughtful thinking and finesse.  This means we need to shrink down so we can manage these more complex systems.  This also means that more people will be in control of land, greatly increasing the population's access to true wealth.  Small farms make much more efficient use of land, since they can't afford to waste land.

Perennial-based.  Annual crop farming is hugely wasteful on so many levels by comparison to perennial crops.  As we move forward, perennial crops will be more and more our focus. Perennial crops conserve top soils, sequester carbon, and increase soil fertility.

Community minded.  Farmers must stop calling the people that eat the food they produce consumers and start calling them what they should be, friends and neighbors.  Agriculture should build community rather than devastate it.  Smaller farms can support more people farming, as well as more folks supplying the needs of the farmers.

Petroleum independent.  While all of this might sound like a nostalgic quaint agrarian dream, what I am talking about is not a return to past times.  Our current food system is completely reliant on petroleum, and like it or not, that system will soon collapse.  Small scale community-based agriculture will be crucial for us to be able to provide for ourselves in the post-petroleum economy.

Just.  There is no way for us to regenerate our world or our community while injustice prevails.

For further inspiration of what regenerative agriculture could look like, I recommend looking at the writings of folks like Bill Mollison and John Todd, but I also recommend a walk in the woods.  Though 3.5 billion years of trial and error, nature has worked out the most efficient systems in the world. We would be smart to take our cues from her.

Post 2: What is Food Justice?

Earthworks, the non-profit urban farm I work with, has as its main goal working for a just food system for all.

So just what is a just food system?  Forgive me if my answer comes off as a manifesto, or how it personifies safe food, but I just got rolling.  

The most simple answer is a just food system honors the basic human right that all people should have access to safe, appropriate food, but to expand on the thought, just what is safe or appropriate food?

Safe food is local.  This argument has little to do with the locavore craze, though there is some overlap.  Local food keeps wealth in the hands of the community. It does not extract wealth from that community.  Money spent to support local business goes seven times further than that used to support multinational agribusinesses.  Local foods are more nutrient-dense and of higher quality since they don't have to travel as long or as far, and in some cases have a lower carbon foot print because of the shorter distances. 

Local producers can more appropriately address the needs of the populace they serve, ensuring that the food is culturally appropriate.  Local foods put the producer close to the consumer.  Socially and environmentally unjust actions on the part of producers are much harder to ignore when they are in the backyard of consumers.  The dehumanizing effect that happens with distance is that much harder to take hold.
Safe food is not exploitative.  It respects the growers and assumes that they should have a right to fair wages and safe working conditions.   Safe food respects the earth by not using poisons or methods that degrade the soil or ground water.  Safe food respects the basic rights of animals to move freely, graze, and express themselves.
This practice supports local economies over export economies.  For all communities to be food secure, they must cover their local communities' needs before turning to export crops.  It focuses on basic necessities over luxury goods.  Safe food is not opposed to trade, but it focuses on local economy needs first.
Safe food supports control of food by the community that consumes it.  All too often, the reins of power within not just the food system but the capitalist system in general are held by those not from the community.  In order to best address the needs of the community it needs to be controlled by the community.  In order to assure that food is produced in a just manner, it needs to be controlled by the community. 

Those working for food justice are not afraid to ask the hard questions.  Those working for food justice are not afraid to reflect on their contributions to injustice and hold themselves accountable.  Those working for food justice seek to hear the voices of the voiceless, and to listen deeply to them and to value them.  Food justice works for justice throughout the world, for no part of the system can truly be just if the whole is not.

For more information on community food security, I recommend visiting the Community Food Security Coalition's website.  To learn more about food justice I recommend the Growing Food and Justice for All website.


Post 1: Growing the City

There is an amazing amount of energy going on in the city right now around local food systems.  I thought I'd take the opportunity to share about my involvement in some of the  projects going on that I'm lucky enough to be a part  of.  I should point out there are plenty of other great projects I'm not involved with.

I live in North Corktown (old-school Briggs) or even NoCo (if you are hip). Somehow it seems to be a hotbed of urban agriculture.  Just across the street is Brother Nature produce and, quickly threatening to take over the neighborhood, Mr. Kings amazing poultry and collards, Dee Dee's petting zoo  on Cochrane, and of course the community garden I'm involved with, Hope Takes Root.  I've been gardening at Hope Takes Root for the last couple of years.  This last spring and summer have been spent installing an edible forest garden based on the principles of permaculture.  Full of all kinds of edible fruits and nuts and heavy on the native side, in time it will be a low maintenance place to relax and snack.  In addition to my community garden, I also have a garden at home, some beehives, and share joint custody of some chickens with the neighbors.

I volunteer to milk goats every Wednesday night at Catherine Ferguson Academy, not too far from my house.  It's a school with a large agriscience program for teen mothers. Complete with a horse, goats, chickens, ducks, geese, rabbits, bees, an orchard, tree nursery, and annual vegetable garden, it's like nothing else in Detroit.  I always take a lap to check out how everything is doing around what used to be the track and now contains the horse pasture.  Then it's milking Apple, Tabitha, and Royal Gem.  We use the milk to make yogurt, cheese, and of course coffee in the morning.

I spend the most time growing in the city with the Capuchin Soup Kitchen's Earthworks Urban Farm.  The two acres of certified organic gardens make for one of the largest urban farms in the city.  Our diverse gardens grow almost every vegetable commonly grown in Michigan and many of the fruits, herbs, and flowers too.  The sites get all the attention, but it's the programs we run out of these gardens that we are most proud of.  Two youth programs: Growing Healthy Kids and Youth Farm Stand give youth in our neighborhood skills in gardening, cooking, ecology, practical work experience in the fields and at the farmers market, and of course a solid dose of fun.   

Through our partnership with the Greening of Detroit, the Detroit Agriculture Network, and Michigan State University, we are part of the Garden Resource Program.  Our role is mostly to provide some of the hundreds of thousands of transplants and space for workshops, but through the collaborative tons of other resources are provided to community and family gardeners throughout the city. Included in these resources are the Urban Roots training program, the Grown In Detroit growers co-op, over 40 classes on a range of topics, and plenty of garden resources including compost, seeds, and access to tool banks.
In addition to all of this programming, Earthworks also works on issues of food access and economic development in the community though the F.O.O.D.  Mobile Market and pilots the Healthy Corner Stores program in partnership with SEED Wayne.  We also host monthly community potlucks focusing on creating a healthy community, a weekly market where folks can purchase food from the gardens, volunteer days where you can experience hands on gardening work, provide quality produce to the soup kitchen we are a part of, and much much more.

Oh and last but not least, I've recently been asked to serve on the Detroit Food Policy Council. While we still have plenty of legwork to do before we really get going, keep on the lookout for exciting new programs coming out of that. 

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