The Michigan Urban Farming Initiative promotes sustainability and community on the North End

The Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (MUFI) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization founded in 2011. Their goal is to use agriculture as a platform for sustainability, education and community.
 
MUFI founders purchased 7432 Brush Street on Detroit's North End in late 2011. The building is a vacant three-story, six-unit apartment complex in a state of disrepair, surrounded by vacant land that they use for farming. "We figured we would take a structure that is visually unique and needs work and use it as a community center and, eventually, our headquarters," says Tyson Gersh, co-founder of MUFI.
 
Gersh started MUFI along with co-founder Darin McLeskey to address issues of food security, neighborhood blight, nutrition and food preparation education. They spent most of 2012 preparing the site for growing, planting mostly pumpkins and show crops. This year they have started production farming in earnest.
 
They have 500 sweet potato plants, 200 different varieties of tomatoes, egg plants, cucumbers, squash, beans, blueberries, raspberries, a small stone fruit orchard, sweet and hot peppers, collard greens, kale, a variety of lettuces, kohlrabe, and more. 
 
They are building a table where harvested produce will be available for free to anyone in the neighborhood who wants it. They will donate to organizations like COTS, sell at places like the Oakland Avenue Farmers Market, and supply local food companies like Garden Fresh Salsa and Elie Teas. Proceeds from sales will go towards sustaining and growing MUFI. "It's important to stay relevant with revenue, (to be) sustaining (ourselves) but also serving our goal of social justice," says Gersh.
 
MUFI's infrastructure is rapidly assembling, but so far all the work in building the organization has been the efforts of Gersh, McLesky, and their volunteer coordinator Shelby Wilson. For the first eight months they funded everything out of their own pockets. Most of the money they have received has come from social media competitions – like their recent Whole Foods Market Detroit Community Support Challenge win – and pitching donations; they've never received a single grant. "It's all just us being extremely proactive in everything," Gersh says.
 
Their long-term plan is to renovate 7432 Brush Street, opening a hostel in the second and third floors with a community recreation space and commercial kitchen on the ground floor and a mezzanine that would serve as a food startup business incubator. They currently have about two blocks of land surrounding their site and an additional three acres nearby.
 
Volunteer workdays are every Saturday. If you want to help out, just show up.
 
Source: Tyson Gersh, co-founder of Michigan Urban Farming Initiative
Writer: Nicole Rupersburg

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Nicole Rupersburg is a former Detroiter now in Las Vegas who regularly writes about food, drink, and urban innovators. You can follow her on Instagram @eatsdrinksandleaves and Twitter @ruperstarski.