Changemaker Voices: Tepfirah Rushdan of Keep Growing Detroit

Eat the Change

Founded in 2013, Keep Growing Detroit works to cultivate a food sovereign city where the majority of fruits and vegetables consumed by Detroiters are grown by residents. Keep Growing Detroit supports more than 1,800 urban gardens and farms in the city and provides urban growers with very low-barrier opportunities to sell the fruits and vegetables they grow at local market outlets. KGD also operates a 1.5-acre urban farm to model and share sustainable agriculture practices. During COVID-19, the organization has been approached by hundreds of new gardens seeking assistance and has ramped up its initiatives in response to the growing need for growing. By switching to a blend of in-person and online programming, Keep Growing Detroit has capitalized on the opportunity to expand the reach of its climate-smart messages through webinars and tutorials that highlight sustainable practices, such as perennial food crops, composting, resource conservation, and preparing healthy food in ways that reduce food waste.

Note: Photographs taken before the COVID-19 pandemic. Keep Growing Detroit is now adhering to all appropriate safety protocols.


What is your role at Keep Growing Detroit?



How would you describe your community? What makes it unique?

Detroit is a unique city for a few reasons. For one, Detroit is huge! And with about 1/3 of the city being vacant land, it is an ideal place for urban agriculture to thrive. The urban farmers in Detroit are resilient community activists who have a deep love for the city and a passion for making positive change. They are doers who have identified a problem in their community – such as vacancy, blight, or food insecurity – and are meeting the challenge head on. They show a staunch commitment to people that I have not seen in other places.


How is the concept of change important to your work? What kind of change does Keep Growing Detroit hope to bring about?

KGD's mission is food sovereignty for the city of Detroit, and this implies some fundamental changes in our relationship to food as consumers and vital changes that need to be made in the food system overall. We see exposure to urban agriculture as a critical step for people toward food sovereignty (choice/control of their food and how it gets to their table). 


What has Keep Growing Detroit been up to since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Whew! Check out our annual report with dashboard details of the year!


What are your biggest challenges right now?

We miss our community. Technology is great, but we are used to seeing gardeners at events and in their gardens. It’s really hard being apart from folks in this way. Our biggest challenge is keeping the same level of engagement and true relationships given the social distancing barrier. To adapt we have added online classes and one-on-one support Facetime calls. But nothing beats in person hugs and smiles!!! 


What is inspiring you right now?

I stay inspired by this work and by the strides I think can be made in bettering my community and advancing self-reliance. 


If you were a plant or a fungi, what would you be?

I don’t know why, but as I think of this I see a big pine tree. And now I am reflecting on what that may mean about myself... Final answer: pine tree – for no reason at all but that it’s beautiful! ☺

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