Detroit farmer Jerry Hebron tapped to help the USDA with urban farming policy reform

click to enlarge Jerry Hebron of Oakland Avenue Urban Farms in Detroit. - COURTESY OF JERRY HEBRON
Courtesy of Jerry Hebron
Jerry Hebron of Oakland Avenue Urban Farms in Detroit.

While Detroit may be known nationally for cars, techno, and Motown, locally the city is a sprawling hub for urban farming. Detroiters have been growing food on vacant lots left in the ashes of the city's housing collapse for years. It’s how residents took food sovereignty into their own hands and used the misfortune as an opportunity to feed their communities.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that a Detroit farmer, Jerry Hebron, has been selected to sit on the US Department of Agriculture’s Federal Advisory Committee on Urban Agriculture. Hebron is the executive director of Oakland Avenue Urban Farms in Detroit’s North End neighborhood.

“Detroit has been leading the country in urban agriculture for over a decade. We kind of set the standard for what is happening around the country in terms of urban farming,” Hebron tells Metro Times. “We want to build the case that urban agriculture is not just a hobby. It’s a serious career for many of these families and entrepreneurs that are growing their businesses and feeding their families.”

She joins 11 other non-profit representatives, educators, and development experts who will provide input on policy and “identify barriers to urban agriculture as USDA works to promote urban farming,” according to a press release.

“It is great to see a Detroit urban farmer, Jerry Ann Hebron, on the inaugural Advisory Committee on Urban Agriculture,” Tim Boring, State Executive Director in Michigan, said in the release. “We look forward to learning how we can better serve Michigan urban agricultural producers and improve our efforts focusing  on equity, local food systems, climate change,  and access to safe and  nutritional food.”

Policy reform around urban farming is desperately needed in Detroit where growers face stiff barriers to purchasing land and threats of displacement from developers. Many a garden in Detroit has been demolished by the city or a business that wants access to the land that a grower is using.

It’s a complex issue where urban farmers start growing on land they don’t own — because a garden that feeds people looks better than an overgrown lot piling up with trash in the neighborhood — but the real owners can come and sell it to someone else at any time.

While these are local issues, at a national level, Hebron says she hopes to address universal barriers faced by urban growers like land access, capital, and crop insurance.

“Farming is usually looked at as big agriculture, which is more commercial farms in rural settings. A lot of the policies in place ignore urban farmers as if we don’t exist,” she says. “We want to ensure that the urban agriculture community is recognized as being sustainable and we want to bring awareness to the fact that we are doing really important work in our communities.”

Hebron brings a ton of expertise to the table that can help change the way urban farming is valued around the country. She is a co-founder of the Detroit Black Farmer Land Fund (DBFLF), a crowd-sourced grant initiative that helps Detroiters purchase land and fund gardening projects. In the two years that the DBFLF has been around, the organization has given over $170,000 to around 70 farmers.

She also helped to establish Detroit’s first community land trust with seven acres that will be used to grow food and provide affordable housing in the North End. Through the trust, 3.5 acres of the land will be dedicated to food production for the next 30 years.

While it isn’t completely clear how exactly the Federal Advisory Committee on Urban Agriculture will operate just yet, Hebron says she is honored to represent Detroit farmers and help take urban farming “to the next level.”

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About The Author

Randiah Camille Green

After living in Japan and traveling across Asia, Randiah Camille Green realized Detroit will always be home. And when she says Detroit, she's talking about the hood, not the suburbs. She has bylines in Planet Detroit News , Bridge Detroit , BLAC magazine, and Model D . Her favorite pastimes are meditating...
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