Pushing Detroit Queer Culture Forward!
ACRE Detroit's Ryan Anderson

ACRE Detroit’s Ryan Anderson

Posted in Features

In a remote location in Detroit’s North Corktown neighborhood, a small urban farm is getting love and attention from one of its owners, Ryan Anderson. As he tills the ground, the sun reflects off of the long-abandoned train station in the distance. Here, the ground promises new growth for the city, literally and figuratively. Careful to not consider what he’s doing one of the “this is going to save the city” projects that the media is all-too-happy to report on, Anderson does see what he’s doing as important in redefining what it means to live and work in the city.

Originally from Kansas, Anderson arrived in Detroit in 2011 after a decade in Washington, D.C. With his friend Hannah Clark, he came to pursue his dream of urban farming. We caught up with Ryan at ACRE.

Wink: What was your inspiration for starting this project?

Ryan Anderson: I was working in DC and my partner, Hannah Clark, was working in Chicago.  We were both doing nonprofit management jobs and wanted to find something that put us a little closer to the change we were seeking to see in the world…. And be outside and be our own bosses, so starting an urban farm seemed like the right fit for us.

W: What is the kind of change you like to see in the world?

RA: With the farm it’s really about providing people with fresh, organic, healthy vegetables. It’s about improving people’s health. It’s also a really healthy use of land. In a city like Detroit where there’s so much available land, a small-scale farm is much better than an empty lot.

W: Why did you choose Detroit?

RA: We looked at a couple of different cities when we were starting out to try to figure out what we wanted.  Detroit seemed like the place that would best enable our dream of urban farming, and it’s a great fit for us personality – wise. The availability of land and a low cost of living, as well as the community of people that are doing so much work to grow and develop the city.  We were struck by how many people here, in addition to having jobs that pay the bills, have side projects, start up businesses and nonprofit organizations. They are really engaged in building community in the city and we really like that.

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W: In Detroit it really does seem like everyone has a side job or the job that they do in order to make money and then there is the other thing that they do which is their passion.  Is it difficult for you to reconcile the two? Is ACRE something that you would eventually want to live from or is it designed to just be that side project?

RA: No, we hope to get to the point where we are economically sustainable and can live off the farm. We started it as a for-profit business and that’s the goal.  Of course, it’s hard to make enough money when you first start out.  We have to have jobs on the side to pay the bills. It takes time away form the project, but it seems a little easier in Detroit than other places we looked at.

W: What are the some of the challenges of doing it in Detroit?

RA: I don’t know that we have really had a lot of difficulties that are Detroit specific.  Every once in a while, you know, we notice that produce is stolen.  But there are a lot of community gardens in the area, so there may be confusion on that front.  At some point it might become a serious issue because we are trying to make a living, but at this point it’s really no…. If someone needs to steal fresh produce to feed his or her family, so be it.

IMG_0459winkW: Tell me a little bit more about ACRE. How much space do you actually have here?

RA: We are renting about an acre of land and currently using half an acre.

W: Do you utilize volunteers? Who helps you?

RA: At this point it’s just Hannah and I. We do have one volunteer who is working off a membership in our farm share program, and we had one volunteer day this summer, but otherwise it’s just the two of us.

W: Is this completely organic?

RA:  At this point we are not certified organic.  We do what is considered natural process or natural practices. We don’t use chemicals or pesticides and the only thing we add to the soil is compost or bone meal and things like that. Other than tilling at the beginning of the year, everything is done by hand.

W: Where do you sell your produce after you harvest?

RA:  We have two outlets for our produce.  One is a 22-member farm share program where the members pay money upfront, at the beginning of the year, and for that they get 20 weeks of produce. And then the other piece of it is sales to restaurants.

W: What do you grow here?

RA: You might refer to this as a “market garden,” where we grow a really wide variety of produce. It’s all produce, we don’t have any animals. We’ve got everything from hot peppers and tomatoes to beets, radishes, onions, and garlic… a really wide range of things.

W: Did you have a background in farming or agriculture?

RA: No, not at all. My partner Hannah did a season-long fellowship on an organic farm in central Illinois the summer I moved to Detroit and volunteered for Brother Nature Produce. After that we started ACRE, so there’s still a lot for us to learn as we grow. Anytime I feel overwhelmed by what we need to know and do, I remind myself that the plants want to grow, too. They are great partners in making the farm work.

W: If someone wants to get involved, what’s the process?

RA: The best way to reach out to us and stay up on what we’re doing is to follow us on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/ACREDetroit). That’s also how we let people know about volunteer days.

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W: How do you view Detroit’s queer culture right now? Do you see non-stereotypical gay occupations as important to the growth of our community?

RA: I’m gay and my partner is a lesbian but we didn’t really set out to start a queer farm. I’ve actually been entertained by the amount of gay farmers that are in Detroit. I think that the queer community in the city is small but really interesting…. Like most people, gays who live in Detroit proper are really engaged with a lot of projects beyond the queer community.  And that is the kind of community I want to be a part of.

W: Do you work with or have relationships with any of the other farmers in general or specifically any of the queer farmers that are here?

RA: Absolutely! There is a loosely organized relationship with the farmers in the city. I also run into a few when I’m out and about but nothing official.

W: Considering that there’s some resistance to the new wave of urban farming in Detroit and the idea that maybe this is a little bit of “colonization” going on, have you had any conflict with your neighbors or other people?

RA: We’ve had a really warm and wonderful reception from all of our neighbors! Brother Nature is just a little bit away from here, and through him we got to know a lot of the neighborhood.  Also, we’re not some massive corporation that’s trying to buy a lot of land and use it with no consideration of the people that live nearby. It’s just us, and our neighbors know that. Also, the conflict is not so much about urban agriculture…. It’s more about these large projects and the idea that rich people want to come to town and experiment with people’s lives. That’s not cool. That’s not ACRE.

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ACRE is a sustainable urban farm helping Detroiters eat healthy, local food by providing the highest-quality rare and heirloom produce possible. As a business we strive to earn a profit while improving the environment and investing in the community around us.


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