“Motown to Grow-Town”

The introduction of the documentary “Urban Roots” is set up to contrast old Detroit with modern Detroit. In the vintage video clips of the city, Detroit is the automobile capital of the world. The narrator calls it an “industrial powerhouse,” a city “at the forefront of commerce.” Flash-forward several decades and what is left of the once-powerful Detroit hardly does it justice. The images shown of Detroit at its peak contrast with the largely abandoned, overgrown Detroit of today.

This is a “talking head” documentary, meaning that people are interviewed and interspersed between b-roll. As with all documentaries, it takes a realist approach, often using handheld cameras and filming at eye level, or at least in a way that puts viewers into the film- it’s as if we are really at the farms. The music gives the film a rural feel, despite being set in a large city.

Greg Willerer, whose urban farm is called Brother Nature Produce, oxymoronically calls Detroit a city of possibilities. He is loyal to the city, and despite the rather bleak outlook many have of Detroit, Willerer is extremely optimistic. Many of Detroit’s farmers share this view with Willerer, and believe that urban farming is a way to slowly revive communities throughout the city. Tommy Spaghetti, a musician and farmer, sings, “Everybody- needs a garden- everybody- needs a garden to grow.”

Although urban farms will definitely not solve all of Detroit’s problems, they are extremely beneficial to the rapidly dwindling neighborhoods. “Urban Roots” tells viewers that only the East side has a few markets; it’s up to the rest of Detroit to fend for itself. Urban farms can drastically change the availability of fresh produce in these areas of the city. They grow organic fruits and vegetables for their communities, and in return Detroit residents are willing to help out when they can. A young woman says, “After we work for two to three hours, we get to pick food for ourselves, and that’s just the best feeling in the world.” In addition, growing healthy food sets a good example for young children. One of the narrators says, “In school, we were never taught how to eat. We were taught the food groups, but never how to eat.” The availability of fresh fruit is priceless to the children growing up in Detroit, let alone every citizen who is forced to live off of corner store groceries and fast food.

The film says that next to California, Michigan is most diverse in the types of food it is able to produce. With the opportunity to grow a multitude of fruits and vegetables, Detroit should be taking advantage of the empty lots and the people willing to help.

-Title is part of a quote said by a narrator in this film


2 thoughts on ““Motown to Grow-Town”

  1. Nice post Celeste! I agree with you about Greg Willerer. I thought he was definitely a compelling voice and I loved his enthusiasm and passion for urban farming. I also like that you quoted the women talking about the results of their hard work and the fresh produce they take home regularly. Seeing fast results from your work makes it all worth it.

  2. The contrasting music is definitely a standout. Such a purposeful mis-matched score only seems to happen when waltzes are played during horror sequences, not a typical quality in a documentary. I’m also glad you got the quote. Hearing AND seeing real results from the people must be a rewarding thing both for them and the film crew.

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