Windsor

Sustainable development might start in the Great Lakes region

Experts in sustainable development think the Great Lakes region is in the best position to become the first fully self-sufficient region in the world. 

'We benefit from a very advantageous geographical position'

MUFI can feed 200 neighbourhood households in a year. (Rose St-Pierre/CBC)

Experts in sustainable development think the Great Lakes region is in the best position to become the first fully self-sufficient region in the world. 

Eight kilometres north of downtown Detroit, a few acres of land teem with produce shoots — the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (MUFI). 

Spanning three acres, the urban farm has been operating since 2011 and can feed 200 households a year, with fruit and vegetables given away for free on Saturdays. 

It's success stems from its volunteers — 10,000 volunteers who donate time, tools and even compost. 

"It's not just agriculture," said land manager Quan Blunt. "We're involved in community development as a whole."

The farm feeds the neighbourhood six months a year but "with a few greenhouses, we could harvest year-round," said Blunt.

Operating in a circular economy

With year-round operation, MUFI would become a shining example of a circular economy organization: a production system that optimizes resources while reducing its environmental footprint. 

"In the Great Lakes region, this is extremely promising," said Daniel Hoornweg, a professor at Ontario Tech University. "We benefit from a very advantageous geographical position."

Spanning three acres, the urban farm has been operating since 2011. (Rose St-Pierre/CBC)

According to Hoornweg, sustainable development experts would "have a hard time" finding a location that could work better under a circular economy model. Some Great Lake cities are already on their way to become "champions" of sustainable development. Columbus, Ohio has earmarked $40 million U.S. to go green. 

Hoornweg said the region has a responsibility to the rest of the world.

"Canadians produce more solid waste per person and consume more energy than anyone else on the planet per capita," said Hoornweg. "If we can't do it, we can't ask the rest of the world to do it."

Riley McMahon, a MUFI volunteer said the shift starts small, calling it "simple."

"It's cheaper to operate, no competition, no need to wholesale or to transport vegetables," said McMahon. "It just needs a few volunteers to get started."

MUFI has distributed 50,000 pounds of produce to more than 2,000 households within two square miles of its location. 

This story was translated from French and originally appeared as Développement durable : et si ça commençait par les Grands Lacs?, written by Rose St-Pierre, as part of Radio-Canada's programming. 

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