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High Tunnel Initiative Brings Local Foods to Detroit

On a cold winter day last week, U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Garry Lee, Michigan State Conservationist from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), visited Detroit's Eastern Market. They were joined by Malik Yakini, Executive Director of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, Ashley Atkinson, Co-Director of Keep Growing Detroit and Morse Brown, Board President of the Southeast Michigan Resource Conservation and Development Council. Despite the freezing temperatures that will make growing food a challenge for another few months, Garry and the Senator were there to discuss new support for the Detroit-Wayne County Seasonal High Tunnel Education Initiative (SHEI) which will bring new high tunnels - greenhouse-like structures also known as hoop houses - to Detroit's urban farmers.

Funded by USDA and managed by local organizations, SHEI will train Detroit’s urban growers to install, operate and manage seasonal high tunnels that will conserve natural resources, improve productivity and help them be profitable year round. Easy to build and use, high tunnels were first supported by USDA as a conservation practice in 2010. Since that time, USDA has funded nearly 10,000 across the country. Along with other benefits, high tunnels are providing farmers from Alaska to Baltimore with tools to extend their growing season and provide their communities with fresh, locally-grown produce later into the year.

Food Hubs: Creating Opportunities for Producers Across the Nation

As I talk to farmers across the country, regardless of what they produce or where, they all share one common challenge:  how to best move product from the farm to the marketplace.  This is especially crucial for small and midsize farmers who may not have enough capital to own their own trucks, their own refrigeration units, or their own warehouse space.  They might not have the resources to develop sophisticated distribution routes, build effective marketing campaigns or network with regional buyers and customers.

Without infrastructure, logistical and marketing support, these producers might be growing the sweetest strawberries or raising the most tender beef, but they lack the infrastructure support to get their exceptional products to your table.

Detroit’s Eastern Market: A Food Hub in a Food Desert

Look up Wayne County, Michigan, home to Detroit, in USDA’s Food Environment Atlas and it is obvious that local residents have some significant challenges in accessing healthful food.  An alarmingly high number of households that lack a car in Wayne County are located further than one mile from the closest grocery store, meaning that many families struggle to get access to fresh and healthy food.  

ARRA Continues to Support American Families

The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act continues to help families, the elderly, the unemployed and children across the country. The Act provided for an increase in monthly benefits for USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. ARRA money provides participating families of four, for instance, an additional $80 each month to purchase nutritious food.