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Permaculture & Detroit’s Urban Agriculture Movement: What is Done, Not What is Said

A million thoughts are racing through my head as I prepare for my upcoming trip to Detroit to teach a PDC next month. I’m hoping to develop relationships with those leading the urban agriculture movement in what many call "America’s first post-industrial city". This undertaking is hugely significant for the global permaculture movement, in general – and America, in particular.

Well over 80% of Detroit’s population is African American – the demographic most severely impacted by the economic disruptions seen most recently. With the collapse of the automotive industry, the city’s unemployment rate is officially 30% – although many say real unemployment is easily in the 50% range. The burgeoning urban agriculture movement that has emerged in its wake has been a revelation. However, it hasn’t been without its problems.

I had an opportunity to speak with a local leader actively addressing the myriad issues related to food security there. He’s an African American man named Malik Yakini who heads an organization called the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network. Many of those reading this may bristle at the organization’s title – the ‘Black’ part, anyway. As if that holds any special significance or deserves mentioning in the discussion about food security or urban agriculture.

But to be very honest, it has everything to do with those issues. Fresh, high quality food is extremely difficult to come by in many American urban centers – especially in poor communities of color. In blunt terms, the businesses that deal in that trade have little desire or interest in operating in these areas. Frankly, their reluctance to do so is no surprise. Concerns about public safety & profitability are legitimate in many cases. However, that’s merely an indication and symptomatic of a much deeper, pernicious, and hard-to-solve problem.

Mr. Yakini participated in a panel discussion about urban agriculture that took place at The University of Michigan-Dearborn last month. Take a few moments to hear what he has to say. The issues he raises need to be properly understood and acted upon. Another person on the panel worth looking up is Dr. Oran Hesterman from the Fair Food Network. Both offer critical insights into this increasingly important matter:

Rhamis Kent

Rhamis Kent is a consultant with formal training in mechanical engineering (University of Delaware, B.S.M.E. '95) and permaculture-based regenerative whole systems design. He has previously worked for the renowned American inventor and entrepreneur Dean Kamen at DEKA Research & Development, with subsequent engineering work ranging from medical device research and development to aerospace oriented mechanical design. After taking an interest in the design science of Permaculture, he sought extended training with permaculture expert and educator Geoff Lawton at the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia. This led to his involvement with design work connected to the development of Masdar City in UAE after Mr. Lawton and his consulting company (Permaculture Sustainable Consultancy Pty. Ltd.) were contracted by AECOM/EDAW to identify solutions which fit the challenging zero emissions/carbon neutral design constraint of the project.


  1. We’re really excited to have you here in Detroit Rhamis. I’m especially glad to hear that you take Malik’s (and the DBCFSN) voice to heart. It’s going to be a very important part doing the work here in an empowering and life giving manner. We’ll see you in a few weeks!

  2. hello have you heard of the zeitgeist movement? Lots of motivated people within the group; ready to do something real. Get this change to our cultural happening a little faster. Hopefully you’ll check it out and we can work together rather than separately. goodbye

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