A Detroit Urban Farm Preserves Black History In Jam Form

In the kitchen at Oakland Avenue Urban Farm, just north of downtown Detroit, Linda Carter and Shawnetta Hudson are in the final stages of making their newest jam creation: cranberry-apple preserves. Carter is meticulously wiping down tables while Hudson seals the lids on jars. Then comes the logo — a beautiful graphic of a black woman with afro hair made of strawberries. The kitchen is small and basic, but for the past year it has served as the hub of a community-based product called Afro Jam.

"The name Afro Jam and the logo are empowering, independent and strong," Carter says. "That's what we want our community to be."

Carter, the food safety manager at the farm, recruited Hudson from the local community to help her keep up with making and selling the product. Strawberry, peach and blueberry are Afro Jam's best sellers.

"Strawberry jam, that's my thing," says Hudson. "And when Linda and I work together, we're on point at all times."

Staying "on point" is a goal of Carter's. The jam venture has to be profitable. So in the past year the small group of about a half-dozen women, rotating volunteers and three paid employees has made an aggressive push to sell the spreads at summer festivals and farmers markets.

Afro-Jam is a product of One Mile, a neighborhood arts and culture organization, and Oakland Avenue Urban Farm, a nonprofit dedicated to cultivating healthy local food sources for the surrounding community. The farm is a project of Northend Christian Community Development Corporation — both are managed by Jerry Hebron. It has a vegetable garden and an apple orchard. Hebron also oversees a weekly farmers market in the summer.

Roughly 83 percent of Detroit's population is black, an aftereffect of white flight that began in the 1950s. As the people left Detroit, so did the supermarkets — especially in poorer, blacker neighborhoods.

Fresh fruits and vegetables became much harder to come by for many city residents.As a result, gardens started popping up in Detroit, which currently has roughly 1,500 urban farms. Some are large and operate at an industrial scale; others are single lots that have been turned into vegetable gardens for a few families.

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