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July 18, 2013

Biodiesel is a viable product of vacant land

by detsea

So far my role within the framework of LEAP has changed several times over several weeks.  This has demanded constant adaptation.  Although a few aspects of the Green T project are becoming clearer and more solidified, I don’t expect the constant fluctuations to end anytime soon.  This is the nature of working in Detroit.  The city is in a state of perpetual uncertainty from the micro to the macro, the individual to the city government, and small business to the big 3.

Earlier this week I met with MetroAg, who are essentially the pennycress harvesting and biodiesel production consultants.  MetroAg is an existing Detroit based company who has experimented with and tested the viability of pennycress as a crop to harvest for biodiesel fuel.  They have experience with harvesting and own the proper equipment necessary to crush the harvested seeds, convert them into oil, and then process them into biodiesel fuel.  MetroAg also has been talking with a major oil company who could be a future partner interested in purchasing oil produced from pennycress.  This would alleviate any pressure on MetroAg to refine the oil into fuel and take care of distribution.  The Start Detroit website has quite a bit of information about pennycress as a crop and the process of converting it into fuel.

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MetroAg facility in Detroit _ 2013.7.9

Developing a farming operation on vacant land in Detroit requires a planning process that is foreign to nearly all of the parties involved.  The logistics are being developed as the project unfolds.  Through MetroAg, I’m currently learning about the necessary elements required for creating an optimal farming situation.  How does one cultivate and harvest among blocks that still have houses on them?  How will the equipment navigate between the city blocks and across curb cuts, streets, and sidewalks?  How small is the smallest viable pennycress field and what does it look like?  What will we do about the sites that have structures survived only by concrete foundations? How much toxicity will the crop remove out of polluted sites?   Speaking of… I should mention that the demonstration block and most likely much of the land that will be used for the Green T project has incredibly toxic soil.  So if you’re wondering why nobody is considering growing heirloom tomatoes or purple asparagus here, essentially it’s because there are very few areas in Detroit where growing edibles would be viable.

This past week, our organization has brought a small group of designers on board to help with the design process.  They are called the 42nd Parallel Group [42PG] and consist of 4 different people with various areas of expertise in the design and business fields.  From here on out I will be working as the main contact between LEAP, MetroAg, and 42PG as they develop the design plans for the entirety of the Green T project.  Beyond that, I am focusing my efforts on pushing for a design solution for the demonstration block that fits within the larger framework of the entire project.  LEAP and I hope to integrate elements of public art and signage onto the site.

Public art!  What is it and who will make it?  I’d surely like to help and bleed my creativity onto the site, but the scale of the demonstration block site could easily contain something that is far too large for me to complete on my own this summer.  The demonstration block site could be a great platform for residents to exhibit their creative skills.  For those reasons, we have decided that it is better to collaborate with locals, rather than take on this type of project alone.  Luckily, Detroit is full of people who are ready and willing to help.  During one of my evenings wandering through the Eastside, I came across this wonderful garden!

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Reclaim Detroit _ 2013.7.9

As I was standing in front of it admiring the signage and the massive variety of edibles growing on these lots, a man in the back of the house waved me in.  After several hours of chatting with the couple who owns the house and the two adjacent lots with the garden, I left with lessons about living on the Eastside, how to successfully farm using hugelkultur, and with one possible contact for a public art installation!  First of all, I had no idea what hugelkultur is until that evening.  Rather than try to explain it myself on here, I’ll just direct you to this link I found that properly explains hugelkultur.  One of the beauties of this technique is that it is creating a raised bed using nearby abundant materials.  The raised bed is necessary in most areas of Detroit because of the highly toxic soils.

Reclaim Detroit's hugelkultur _ 2013.7.9

Reclaim Detroit’s hugelkultur _ 2013.7.9

Detroiters carry themselves with pride for the place they call home.  The Reclaim Detroit plots exemplify the optimism that some residents have.  The Mack Ave Green T project and others within LEAP aim to boost that pride and improve the quality of life for those who call Detroit home.  The last thing I’d like to mention in this post is a huge nod to the resilience and initiative that this blue collar city exudes.  You may or may not know that Detroit was recently a finalist city to host the X Games for several consecutive years.  How does a motocross track or massive halfpipe sound as a design solution for vacant lots?!! Yesterday, unfortunately, it was announced that Austin won the bid and Detroit did not.  But then this announcement came.  Bring on the D-Games!

‘Detroit hustles harder’

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