Behind the Scenes with Breaking Through Concrete: A Morning in Detroit

A visit to lush D-Town Farm.

By Brooke Smith

“Let me give you a tour,” is the standard and gracious greeting from Jackie Hunt, Assistant Farm Manager at D-Town Farm in Detroit, MI. Jackie’s pride in the farm, as well as the accomplishments of her other affiliation, Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, come through in the stories told at each stop on our tour of this 2 acre farm in Rouge Park. It’s a pride in community, in the sheer force of teamwork, and in a beautiful, useful product (organic food!): her daughter-in-law’s grandmother’s husband plowed the field with his tractor to ready the overgrown wooded parcel for transformation into a working, active farm; the Farm Manager, Marilyn (Nefer Ra) Barber, is a dynamo partner in the creation and running of the farm; the kale, watermelon, bees, mushrooms, lettuce, and more are growing strong under the hot summer sun and in the new hoop houses.


Michael Hanson photographs Marilyn Barber

Lorrie Clevenger, Capacity Building Coordinator for the Grassroots Action Network at WhyHunger connected up with me on the Breaking Through Concrete tour in Detroit. One of her great talents and passions is gardening, so it’s no surprise that almost immediately upon arrival at the D-Town Farm she found a pair of gloves and was weeding the front rows of the lettuce bed. Catching her wave of enthusiasm, I offered my services to Marilyn and our merry band headed off to “mound up the rows of watermelon” along the edge of a waving field of purple thistle and silver willow trees.

Hoeing the dark soil (recently submerged under rain water after a tornado hit the area last month), we began to chat about Marilyn’s history with the farm, starting with her involvement in the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (she is now working with them on starting Detroit’s first Food Policy Council), and a career-changing epiphany at a gardening training with the Greening Of Detroit a few years ago. You can feel her joy in both the physical work and the natural environs, (she used to be a behind-the-desk administrator), and also from the constant community interaction that lies at the heart of the D-Town urban farm model.


Jackie, Marilyn and Lorrie working the farm

As we were working, a few people wandered in to ask questions–Where do you sell this food?–and to take a look around the beehives, the wooded glade incubating mushrooms, the brightly painted tires sprouting onions, and the rows and rows of organic crops . D-Town regularly gets large groups of visitors and volunteers, ranging from ages 3 up to senior citizens. Jackie and Marilyn seem to find time and tasks for everyone (even though they often spend energy cleaning up the mess- including recently digging up over 200 onions that were planted upside down). As the sun began to slide into afternoon shadows, I watched them animatedly answering David’s questions and taking pictures with Michael and Charlie, and realized that they both have the grower’s gift–after many years of gracious hosting between back-breaking days of farm labor – for making each new group feel as though they are discovering something for the first time. And, in a sense, this is the alchemy of farming – you know what’s coming, you’ve seen it each season before on the same cycle each year, but it never ceases to feel like magic.


Lorrie and Marilyn chat about the farm

Updated 06/29/2010