Homegrown Health: How Eating Local Can Help the Community and Your Body

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Sign posted on the Detroit Hives grounds.
“No Trespassing: Honeybees," reads a sign posted near a fenced corner lot along East Warren on Detroit’s east side. “Please do not disturb,” it continues. “They are hard at work. Our farm’s food and flowers depend on them.”

Signs like these are becoming a more common sight throughout the Motor City. Once abandoned or underutilized city lots have been transformed into urban farms that are buzzing with activity.

For Detroit Hives, it all started when Timothy Paule Jackson caught a nasty cold in 2016. “I had a dry cough and couldn’t get rid of it,” he remembers. “I had tried everything … antibiotics, onions, garlic, turmeric.” A conversation with a clerk at a local convenience store led him to try local raw honey. “I pretty much laughed at him when he suggested it,” Jackson recalls, “but I was desperate.”

He was amazed that within a few weeks he was symptom-free. This prompted him to research honey’s health benefits. What he found was that honey from local bees boosts your immune system and helps the body fight environmental triggers. He also learned that local raw honey can help regulate blood sugar, condition the skin and hair, and soothe eczema.

That experience changed his life and that of his partner, Nicole Lindsey, who co-founded Detroit Hives in 2017. In the short year since establishing the nonprofit group, they have become experts on the healthy benefits of raw honey and on the honeybees’ important overall role in promoting healthy residents and a healthy food chain. 

Combating Food Deserts

Detroit Hives is one of many groups working to improve health and combat “food deserts,” defined as the lack of affordable, nutritious food in urban communities. Most, like Detroit Hives and Rising Pheasant Farms, attribute their strong start to Keep Growing Detroit, a nonprofit “dedicated to cultivating a food sovereign city where the majority of fruits and vegetables are grown by residents within city limits,” according to its website. 

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Collecting honey at Detroit Hives.
Among KGD’s many offerings is Urban Roots, a nine-week hands-on course designed to teach community leaders organizing and horticulture skills. More than 400 students have participated in the program, now in its 12th year. Graduates have led neighborhood workshops, hosted volunteer days, started food entrepreneurship projects and supported urban and community gardens throughout the city.

The group’s flagship effort, The Garden Resource Program, started in 2004 with 80 local farms. Currently, it works with more than 1,500 urban farms and some 25,000 residents in Detroit and suburbs Hamtramck and Highland Park. Ashley Atkinson, KGD’s co-director, is proud that Detroit has more gardeners and gardening per capita than any place in the country but says there’s always room for improvement.

 “When you know where your food comes from, it’s better for your body and for the environment,” she says.

Rising Pheasant Farms got its start in 2009. A regular at the city’s Eastern Market, it specializes in shoots and microgreens but also grows tomatoes, spinach, kale, carrots, beets, scallions, peas, beans and other in-demand crops. Its owners believe that eating and growing local “promotes healthy relationships with our food and our community and decreases health issues and food safety concerns,” owner Carolyn Leadley says. (For more about farmers’ markets, see sidebar on page 12.)

The health benefits of local foods are clear, Leadley says. Few things beat the feeling of growing and eating your own fruits and veggies. “Everyone can grow something,” she insists, “even if it is just a few herbs on your windowsill.”

If you can’t, the next best thing is to support local farmers. “We can all learn to appreciate the ebb and flow of eating seasonally,” Leadley adds.

Urban farms, like hers, are “an opportunity to build community, educate folks about the organic and local urban agricultural movement and increase accessibility to local, naturally grown produce,” Leadley says. It all adds up. “It’s better for our families, for the farmers who grow it and for the earth.” And there’s no denying that farm-fresh flavor, she adds. “You can’t beat the taste of produce that only traveled a few miles to get to market.”

Farm to Table

No garden? No problem. You can enjoy fresh fruits and veggies even if you can’t grow your own.

0891 Pro Tip DesignYou can find farmers’ markets, offering plenty of farm-to-table options, in most large and even some small cities. In southeast Michigan, two to consider are Eastern Market, Detroit, with a rich history since 1891; and the Flint Farmers’ Market, sponsored by HAP and long focused on community nutrition.

Categories: Get Healthy, Get Involved