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Ann Arbor nonprofit chief talks about urban farming at summit

Oran Hesterman, head of Ann Arbor-based nonprofit the Fair Food Network, was among the panelists at an Urban Farming Summit at the University of Michigan-Dearborn on Friday.

Other panelists included several advocates in the urban farming movement in Southeast Michigan, including:

  • Ashley Atkinson, The Greening of Detroit
  • Susan Schmidt, The Henry Ford
  • Kami Pothukuchi, SEED Wayne
  • Malik Yakin, Detroit Black Community Food Security
  •  

The first half of the morning centered on a panel discussion, followed by breakout roundtable discussion groups. Acclaimed filmmaker Robert Kenner, who directed the Oscar nominated "Food Inc." was the keynote speaker during lunch. Finally the day wrapped up with discussion of the roundtable topics, which ranged from personal and public health to building local economies to land use and local ecology.

During the panel discussion, Hesterman described the current food system, which is heavily industrialized as depicted in "Food Inc.," as "broken," comparing the industry to health care and the financial sectors.

"The broken food system is keeping people hungry and unhealthy," said Hesterman, referring to the fact that it's often cheaper to get a two-liter of soda than a head of fresh broccoli.

He spoke of the "unique opportunity" in Detroit to redesign the food system from "the ground up," citing the need for community engagement and public policy to get there. Agriculture has the potential to play a huge role in the region's economic sector.

While fields of agriculture filling up all of Detroit's vacant lots are quite not a reality at this point in time, Hesterman is working now to help address the symptoms of a broken and out of control food system. His Fair Food Network is working on a program to increase Bridge Card holders' buying power at farmers markets. For example, if he or she has $20 to spend, he or she will be able to buy $40 worth of fresh, local produce. So not only is the consumer getting nutritious, healthy fruits and vegetables but that money is going to local farmers, not a huge corporation. It's a small step forward in the fight against Big Food.

Kenner summed up the optimism of the day by saying that "I will leave here talking about Detroit, I think it's a great story."

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