When it comes to urban farming and renewal, “left” and “right” are mostly useless political terms.

Recently I attended a lunch hour talk given by Drew Philp, a young man who is a fellow University of Michigan alum, a journalist, a home renovator, a teacher, and an all-around renaissance millennial man. His talk was based on an article he wrote last year which was published on BuzzFeed entitled Why I Bought A House In Detroit For $500:

After college, as my friends left Michigan for better opportunities, I was determined to help fix this broken, chaotic city by building my own home in the middle of it. I was 23 years old.

Being the young, idealistic, U of M educated sort, I’d say Mr. Philp probably considers himself fairly liberal, whereas I consider myself an orthospherian sort of reactionary. Nevertheless, I found much to admire in this young man and had a brief, interesting chat with him about urban farming after his talk. He told me that Detroiters he knows have had their goats taken away due to Michigan’s recently-passed (and signed by our Republican governor) regulations denying Right-to-Farm protections to small scale farming in urban and suburban areas (i.e. your backyard chickens are no longer protected by Right-to-Farm laws; also, see this interesting article: Right to Farm protection denied for Michigan farmer’s goats, greenhouse).

He also wrote about an incident that exemplifies something I too have noticed:

One of the [United States Social Forum] events I did see was a march staged by professional protest coordinators who had come in from California opposing Detroit’s trash incinerator, the largest in the United States. It’s located in Poletown. We have an asthma hospitalization rate three times the national average. If you would like an inside look at Detroit’s Third-World level of corruption, a good place to start is the incinerator. You can safely say there is a culture of corruption in your city when the top two politicians, including a former mayor and city council president pro tem, have been, or are currently in, prison for corruption, racketeering, and the like. One former city councilwoman allegedly requested a bribe including 17 pounds of sausages.

The protest would march down Detroit’s main thoroughfare and past the incinerator, presumably raising holy hell and sticking it to the man. They needed a place to stage the making of the props — hundreds of spray-painted sunflower pickets, miniature incinerators, signs. One of my well-meaning neighbors offered The Yes Farm, an abandoned apothecary where we occasionally staged art and music shows.

I guess no one saw the irony in cutting down real pine trees to make fake sunflowers. Or that a protest to demand clean air would use so much aerosol spray paint. But the real irony came when the Social Forum was over and it was time for the out-of-towners to leave for the next protest.

“What are you going to do with all this stuff?” we asked.

“Why don’t you just recycle it?” they said.


They left it all in The Yes Farm and split, leaving it for us to deal with. Now we had another pile of trash to clean up and nowhere for it to go. So while they were gallivanting off to the next good deed, that shit went into the incinerator and into our lungs.

Gee, annoying liberal white people, thanks for adding to the pollution of Detroit’s air. Image source

Our Republican governor had no problem removing Right to Farm protection from small scale urban farmers, and Democrats and other leftists have no common sense and are not only useless but actively make things worse, as Drew’s protest march anecdote demonstrates.

I don’t know the answer, but there’s got to be another way. The left and right – conservative and liberal – ideologies in this country are not serving us well. Conservatives have sold their souls to capitalism and liberals have sold their souls to debauchery and destruction, but both sides seem to love the rebellion against kith and kin that democracy always seems to bring wherever it lands.

What I admire about young men like Drew Philps is that they have become relatively apolitical; they no longer seem to trust that the government will necessarily make wise decisions, and they aren’t waiting around for government and capitalism to solve everyone’s problems. Drew told us at the talk that most of them try to stay off local government radar because it just ends up causing headaches and they just want to get stuff done. They don’t want to govern, they don’t want to march, they don’t want to protest.  They want to work, they want to build and rebuild, they want to plant and grow.


11 thoughts on “When it comes to urban farming and renewal, “left” and “right” are mostly useless political terms.

  1. This is one of the reasons I refer to myself as a Southern Agrarian. Though the “think locally act locally” mantra could generally be said to be somewhere in the more or less classical liberal area, it really does not fit neatly into the left-right dichotomy. I also do own a farm so I guess that helps with the agrarian designation.


  2. You should told them to take their fake sunflowers back to California with them as souveniers of their trip. I’d like to see the baffled exprssions on the faces of the flight attendants.
    I am a mean bear.


    • Though I have always had an aesthetic appreciation for late 19th and early 20th century revolvers, I seem to prefer the Remington over the Colt revolvers from that period.

      In the East Tennessee mountains we always were told that no matter how fuzzy and cute a “little black bear” looked they could tear open the door on a 63′ Fairlane like a man peeling the lid off a sardine can if they were motivated enough.


  3. I’m looking into taking up beekeeping when I go back home. I can’t do it here, for various reasons, but I do love bees.

    A bit depressing to hear about the councilwoman and the sausages. If elected officials are going to undermine democracy, you’d hope they’d at least sell out their constituents for things you could understand – huge amounts of money etc. Sausages shows a complete lack of vision!


  4. A bit depressing to hear about the councilwoman and the sausages. If elected officials are going to undermine democracy, you’d hope they’d at least sell out their constituents for things you could understand – huge amounts of money etc.

    That’s business as usual in Detroit politics. But rest assured she wasn’t just in it for the sausages:

    Detroit City Councilwoman Kay Everett accepted more than $150,000 in bribes from a major city contractor in exchange for supporting his efforts to get more money for city contracts, according to a federal indictment unsealed Thursday.

    Everett demanded regular payments in exchange for helping Detroit businessman Frank Vallecorsa, the owner of American International Inc., as far back as 1997, the indictment said. She received $139,000 in payments and also received free meals and vacations. She even demanded and received 17 pounds of sausage worth $125 in May 2001, the government said. She referred to the money as loans, but the FBI said she never repaid any of it.

    Vallecorsa’s company had more than $70 million in city contracts between 1990 and 2002.

    Everett’s lawyer, James C. Thomas, said Everett will plead not guilty.

    Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick said he would support Everett’s efforts to raise money for her legal defense.

    Detroit Councilwoman Kay Everett

    Presumably that was when Kwame Kilpatrick was not in prison on corruption charges.

    Detroit's Ex-Mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick


    • Oh! Well, that’s reassuring. She’s traditionally corrupt.

      I’d hate to see a woman go corrupt for something as patriarchal as dinner.

      But, more seriously, the more I see the world, the more I feel like a country can recover from just about anything except corruption. There are some more ‘honest’ forms of corruption, if that’s possible, where corruption acts as an extra tax on goods and services that everybody has to pay. Mostly, though, graft is like a cancer that spreads, that you can’t get rid of.


  5. Pingback: Millennials: childless, indentured to student loans for life, and all for nothing. | The Sunshine Thiry Blog

  6. Lots of towns in MN are starting to authorize farm animals like chickens and goats–the general process is to simply agree with your neighbors that it’s OK and get a permit. Something of a near-libertarian approach to the matter.

    One possible difficulty for this in Detroit is what I saw in suburban Chicago when a child; my grandmother had to stop gardening because it turned out that her neighborhood had for whatever reason a fair amount of toxic metals in the soil. So there may yet be reason that the city may do well to have a few outright bans. Want some cadmium-laden goatflesh? I thought not.


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