Friday, July 5, 2013

Green City Diaries: Dig This

Photo by Marvin Shaouni.
(originally published 6/18/13 in Model D.)

People have been growing food in Detroit, off and on, for centuries. Today, it's clear that urban agriculture is an essential part of our post-industrial identity. Even city government has gotten behind the movement, finally passing an urban ag ordinance just a few months ago. As more and more people choose to live lives here that are at once urban and rooted to the earth, important questions emerge: how much do we really know about the soil in Detroit, for instance, and how has it changed over time?

Urban soils, it turns out, are a vastly understudied phenomenon. In Southeast Michigan, as in many parts of the country, regional soil surveys conducted by the USDA have historically stopped at the city limits. It's a problem of both scale and complexity: urban activity has rendered the soil conditions so variable that the undertaking would be enormous. Two samples collected just a few feet from one another are likely to have wildly different compositions. Multiply that by 139 square miles and you start to see the problem.

There are Detroiters, however, who spend much of their lives working in and thinking about the soil, and their insights can provide a fascinating glimpse of the complex and surprising world beneath our feet.

Read the rest at Model D.

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