Into the Wild: Black Detroiters Reconnect to Nature  

Rachel Felder, left, is a naturalist for the Detroit Parks and Recreation Department.     Michiganders are fortunate to live in a state with many natural resources, from the five Great Lakes to state and local nature parks. In every season, there are opportunities to venture into the great outdoors on adventures away from city … Continued

Into the Wild: Black Detroiters Reconnect to Nature  

Rachel Felder, left, is a naturalist for the Detroit Parks and Recreation Department.  

 

Michiganders are fortunate to live in a state with many natural resources, from the five Great Lakes to state and local nature parks. In every season, there are opportunities to venture into the great outdoors on adventures away from city life and embrace our harmony with the natural world. 

Black Detroiters can take advantage of several initiatives and programs the city offers to reconnect folks with the flora and fauna, starting in their own backyards.  

It’s so powerful for Black people to get outside and [for] Black children [as well],” said Rachel Felder, naturalist for the Detroit Parks and Recreation Department.  

“Nature is something that’s surrounding us and can help heal, offering knowledge from plant life to grow your own food and a change to help destress. Even taking a walk outside or sitting under a tree, there is something for everyone.” 

The Parks and Rec Department provides opportunities for residents to step outside everyday life to go on hikes, attend summer camps, take bird walks, be a part of nature clubs at different recreation centers and schools. Many programs are available to learn about different plants, animals and training on how to interact with the outdoors from short hikes to long camping trips. 

Felder told the Michigan Chronicle that sometimes people are hesitant to engage in any outdoor activities because of a lack of prior experience outside as regular urbanites.  

“Nature is a space that can feel inaccessible,” said Felder. “It’s a space that can feel a little uncomfortable and depending on the level of exposure that you’ve had with it. It’s very powerful for Black folks to connect with nature, whether you live in the city or not because of the simple fact that nature is for everyone.” 

The city’s Detroit Outdoors program provides training for residents coming into nature from different levels of experience, programming for youth groups, scout troops and school classes to have an overnight camping experience in the city. The program also helps offset costs that can be a huge barrier by offering accessible rentals of nature gear.  

Felder said she witnessed more folks venture outside during the pandemic as people needed to think more creatively about safe ways to gather. 

“Families started to get together as a family unit,” said Felder, “which can be huge, especially if parents or elders haven’t done so before, it models for the kids that it’s fun to try new things. Even if you don’t like camping, you can find something to do together to spend time unplugged from devices and enjoy each other’s company in the natural world.” 

Agriculture and Urban Farming  

Several national agricultural sources have cited Detroit as the first urban “agrihood,” with suburban developments on sustenance farming for individuals and urban communities that has grown across the city’s vacant lots and underutilized green spaces.  

Tepfirah Rushdan is the co-director of Keep Growing Detroit and co-founder of the Black to the Land Coalition. Both organizations are dedicated to serving Black and Brown Detroiters in reconnecting to nature, including recreation, education, agriculture and sustenance farming. 

“At Keep Growing Detroit,” said Rushdan, “we offer classes, one on one technical assistance with farming in the community, seasonal distribution of plants, and design assistance with black clubs and community gardens.” 

Founded in 2013, Keep Growing Detroit is focused on the priorities related to food sovereignty and community engagement in the cities of Detroit, Hamtramck and Highland Park. 

The organization also offers Urban Roots, an educational program series offered to Detroiters who are mostly new to farming or come from a legacy farming background and need help navigating their own garden goals depending on respective needs.  

“Some people come from communities with a high level of land vacancy and want to use gardening as beautification. And others are from more densely populated areas and want to find land to grow on. There are also folks who aren’t English speakers. So, it’s about trying to be helpful for all types of folks.” 

Rushdan said education is a big component to helping Black Detroiters to walk through hesitations that are rooted in historical trauma associated with farming.  

“A farmer out of upstate New York…said it best, ‘the farm was the battlefield for Black folks,’” said Rushdan. “Black folks are really facing the scariness of the past, in terms of their positions on the farms. 

 “You’ll also have some Black folks who have taken up farming as a way to discover their self-determination and their ancestral roots. And there are folks that are repelled by farming because of that history. Saying, ‘I don’t want to go back to that.’ There is a complex range of emotions, particularly for formerly oppressed people.” 

Similar to the nature healing work of Keep Growing Detroit, Black to the Land began as a group of Black and Brown people helping others be in touch with nature and grew into a nonprofit.  

“We started off with camping trips, then COVID kind of derailed us a bit and we opened up some ideas,” said Rushdan, “Like a few overnight events as a strong camping component with Black to the Land. We also do kayaking, hiking trips with youth, a team squad that does outdoor activities with teenagers. And winter spots, like cross country skiing and sledding.” 

Black to the Land provides low-entry barriers for anyone in the community that doesn’t know where to start when it comes to cost and transportation issues.  

For residents that want to follow upcoming events with Detroit Outdoors and Black to the Land, follow both social media accounts @outdoorsdetroit and @blacktothelandcoalition for information about outdoor Fall activities and events.