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Detroit hires first-ever director of urban agriculture

Tepfirah Rushdan is Detroit's first-ever Director of Urban Agriculture.
City of Detroit
Michigan Radio
Tepfirah Rushdan is Detroit's first-ever director of urban agriculture.

Detroit officials have appointed the city’s first-ever urban agriculture director, Tepfirah Rushdan.

Her job is to support the current farms in the city and help turn more vacant land into farms.

“A lot of times we find that folks in higher-up positions don't know the issues, like we're struggling on the ground and they don't even know why. That's why that struggle is happening," Rushdan said during a Monday press conference announcing her appontment.

"Conveying those struggles to those people that have the power to move those things is my top priority,” she said.

The new position in the administration came as a direct result of a series of meetings Mayor Mike Duggan held with members of the urban agriculture community as part of the process of developing his land value tax proposal, according to a press release from the mayor's office.

The office said another result of those meetings was land used for urban agriculture being exempted from the proposed increased tax on land.

Detroit joins cities like Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and Atlanta, which also have urban agriculture directors. Advocates like Malik Yakini, the executive director of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, say they've been pushing for this position in Detroit for years.

“As we reimagine what a city can be, it has to be more than buildings and concrete and parking structures. And we're seeing this happening in Detroit now. We have to appreciate the green spaces, the green ways and urban farms. All of those are part of what urban life is about,” Yakini said.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said Rushdan will be able to address things like the water department not fixing water backups on farms, the Detroit Land Bank Authority selling vacant land to non-Detroiters, and the city’s Buildings, Safety Engineering, and Environmental Department not knowing how to properly inspect farms.

“You are now going to have a unified voice within the administration that says urban farming is value. Its expansion is critical to our future. And there is a leader with inside the city is going to make that happen,” Duggan said.

Rushdan, who started the new job last week, says she plans to create a community advisory committee to give feedback to help decide her priorities.

According to the mayor's office announcement of her appointment, Rushdan is a longtime community farming activist and resident of Detroit’s Green Acres neighborhood. She most recently served as co-director of Keep Growing Detroit, an organization that helps support urban farming and encouraging the consumption of locally-grown fruits and vegetables.

Briana Rice is Michigan Public's criminal justice reporter. She's focused on what Detroiters need to feel safe and whether they're getting it.
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