The city of Detroit, MI has its first director of urban agriculture who will be working as a liaison to urban farmers, along with helping to shape city policy.
The new director, Tepfirah Rushdan, is a longtime community farming activist. She is currently the co-director of Keep Growing Detroit Farm and sits on the Detroit Food Policy Council. Rushdan previously served as director of Urban Agriculture for The Greening of Detroit, is a board advisor to several community projects, and established the Black Farmer Land Fund, which provides urban farmers with capital infusions for land and infrastructure.
“I literally stand on the shoulders of giants who pushed to get land access through the city and helping people through that land purchase process, to get permitted and I’m just so happy we have our foot in the door to get this work done,” Rushdan said.
Mayor Mike Duggan said the city has seen an “evolution” in urban agriculture and appointing a director was the “natural next step.” There are 2,029 gardens and farms currently operating in Detroit, including 1,433 family, 383 community, 120 school, and 93 market gardens or farms, according to a 2021 estimate by the nonprofit Keep Growing Detroit.
“We probably should have done this sooner, but now, she is not speaking truth to power – she is the power,” Duggan said. “It makes all the difference to be in the government department rather than looking for who in the city department can support.”
The appointment of a director of urban agriculture arose from Mayor Duggan’s Land Value Tax Plan, which was designed to encourage the productive use of vacant lands and reduce homeowners’ taxes.
“When I was elected a decade ago, there were more than 45,000 abandoned homes. Today, 25,000 have been knocked down, 15,000 have been fixed, and 5,000 more will be eliminated in the next 18 months,” said Duggan. “For urban farmers who often didn’t know how to navigate acquiring land from the city or securing permits, this appointment will serve as a game-changer.”