communication, détroit, sustainability, innovation, ecology, USA, branding, brand, sustainable

Claire and Guillaume from strategic planning were in Detroit from 22 to 25 May for Sustainable Brands, the global event for responsible and innovative brands. Workshops, testimonies, city tours ... Making the most of the opportunity of being there, they were able to discuss topics ranging from food in cities to the workings of urban farms, a widespread phenomenon in Detroit.
For, contrary to popular belief, far from being a ghost town, Detroit is a city of the future - especially in terms of social innovation and sustainability.
But how has vital necessity, which the American city has been feeling the effects of since the 1950s, created the conditions for the emergence of tomorrow’s solutions?
Claire explains the important lessons that the reinvention of Detroit can teach us in a series of 5 articles! She gives us an insider’s view of three days filled with discoveries, sharing and emotions.
We’ve already posted the first four episodes: “Ford and Detroit: a History of Interwoven Destinies”, “Human Beings beyond the Headlines”, “Places of Reinvention Reinvented” and “Let your Inner Values Shine Through”.
Time now for the fifth and last episode in our series, “Local Food, Global Impact”.

There’s no way I can end this short series of articles about our experience in Detroit without telling you about urban gardens. Because to be honest, before I told you about Detroit it's probably all you knew about it - I can’t count the number of times I've heard “Oh yes Detroit! In that movie “Tomorrow”, they talked about the shared gardens and all that stuff". And you’d be absolutely right, Detroit is also the capital of urban agriculture in all shapes and forms!
But do you know why? A quick flashback...
Between 1930 and 2010 Detroit went from a Boom City and place-to-be to a Ghost City to be avoided at all costs. A victim of economic, oil and race crises, the city could no longer provide work for its inhabitants who had to move away, leaving behind them houses that were unsellable. Emptied of its inhabitants and businesses, the city was ruined and declared itself bankrupt in 2013. Overgrown and devoid of public services ... welcome to Detroit, city of the living dead, and an object of derision throughout the whole United States.


But that was underestimating the fighting spirit of the Detroiters. For those who couldn’t afford to leave had no other option but to roll up their sleeves and set out to reconquer their city. No street lighting? We'll fix that! Abandoned land? We’ll grow things on it! That was the starting point of hundreds of urban farms and gardens (literally - today there are more than 1,400!)
On your behalf I went to meet the founders of two of these havens of nature within the heart of the community.

What is it?
One of the 200 Agrihood projects - neighborhoods where agriculture plays a central role in producing food, improving the landscape and social integration – in various parts of the United States. The Mufi is a 3-hectare plot of land in the heart of a poor district of Detroit, where fruit and vegetables are grown. It’s a place that has been developed in collaboration with local inhabitants and where new methods to improve food production and life in the neighborhood are being experimented with.

Why did I choose to talk to you about it? 
Because I just love the profoundly hybrid nature of this project! Starting from the simple idea of growing food together to create links and provide free food for the community, the project is now embarking on an extensive program of experimentation with a wide range of partners. Some examples: the irrigation management system was designed using NASA equipment, the chemical company BASF provides support for the rehabilitation of insalubrious houses based on its experience in sustainable construction, and next year the association is hoping to be able to open a whole building with space dedicated to experiments to improve production and a "healthy café". A large-scale project that will bring together companies such as BASF, General Motors, Herman Miller and Stanley Black & Decker.
What could it inspire in other brands?
United we stand! Widely divergent brands that join forces around a local project, in contact with local communities – you wonder just how far it could go. Imagine a neighborhood completely redesigned by brands - a Nike neighborhood with Nike-designed racing tracks and multi-sport areas, or a BioCoop area with outlets selling fresh fruit and vegetables outdoors, or where H & M organizes clothes recycling workshops. Neighborhoods where brands go much further than just opening a shop, but have a role as a fully committed stakeholder in local life. 
What is it?


Artesian Farms is a vertical farm project right in the heart of another Detroit area. A what? Yes that’s right: a vertical farm. These come in various shapes and sizes. In this case it’s a large building where lettuces, basil and cabbages are grown 24/7 above ground on large shelves and exposed to permanent artificial light. This method uses 97% less water than conventional systems and yields around 17 harvests a year...
The products are then sold on in the markets and supermarkets of the city.

 Why did I choose to talk to you about it?
Because it’s an economically viable project by and for local people. Because the raison d'être of the Artesian Farms project is to help the community. When it was launched its founder had one overriding obsession: to offer local job opportunities to young people who couldn’t afford a car in a neighborhood without public transport. A challenge that was successfully overcome by this small structure that has breathed new life into the community.
And also because I love the spirit of this small brand that combines ultra-local branding (even down to specifying the neighborhood), ideas and ambition with a light and unpretentious, "for goodness sake" attitude. Today the brand has partnered with another vertical Farm, Green Spirit Farms, to create a Michigan-wide movement and provide local communities with low-cost, high-quality, GMO- and pesticide-free food. A great example of how local can go global.
And what if it inspired other brands?
What if brands joined forces to create movements that promote their societal vision? Ben and Jerry's, Starbucks and AirBnB, for example, could create a movement to improve social inclusion - a key cause they all already defend. By pooling their resources and complementary expertise - their knowledge of the field or of lobbying - the overall power of their influence could give them an enormous impact. Imagine a platform accessible to all, presenting inspiring projects, petitions, communication campaigns and tools to help fragile communities. A real force for good!
Food, a multiplier of value
There are many great projects that show that food production in the heart of the community can play a much more significant role than simply feeding people. As a factor in creating social links and boosting economic activity, agriculture has become a fertile ground for societal renaissance. In a world where citizens increasingly seek new ways of consuming and where people feel an ever greater need to be in contact with nature in the heart of cities, developments in Detroit should be seen as an unmissable source of inspiration for western agri-food brands...