In many ways, Tepfirah Rushdan was already acting as Detroit’s unofficial director of urban agriculture for years before she was officially given the title.
Rushdan is the co-director of Keep Growing Detroit, one of the city’s biggest urban farms. She’s also one of the co-founders of the Detroit Black Farmer Land Fund, which helps buy land for Black farmers. She’s a board member of Black to the Land Coalition, helping people of color reconnect with nature. She owns her own business, Detroit Mobile Kayak, where she takes people on guided tours of local waterways. All that on top of being a mom, not just to her biological children, but to people who are just finding their way in the urban agriculture space.
So when Mayor Mike Duggan announced that she was chosen as Detroit’s first Director of Agriculture on Monday afternoon, it just made sense. In her new role, she will help influence policies around urban farming in the city, acting as a liaison between the Mayor’s office and the farming community.
“To create a position like this within the city solely for urban agriculture is a bold move and speaks volumes about the Mayor’s commitment to urban farms and really all land-based projects,” Rushdan said. “There are so many people and organizations doing amazing work in this space and I hope to use my position to support their efforts and promote the benefits of a strong local food system.”
As a longtime champion of urban agriculture, Rushdan knows the work being done to sow the seeds of a more sustainable landscape for growers in the city. When farmers started voicing their concerns to her about Duggan’s proposed Land Value Tax Plan, she held community meetings and was asked by the mayor’s office to draft a proposal to protect those farmers. Following meetings with Duggan, and eventually an agreement to make urban farms and community gardens exempt from the tax increase, Rushdan was asked to become Detroit’s director of urban agriculture.
“The urban agriculture community is doing incredible work in Detroit and as demand increases for land in the city, it became clear we needed someone who understands these issues in our administration to support their work,” Duggan said. “Tepfirah has been one of the leading voices and activists in the urban agriculture movement and is the perfect person to help make sure the city is helping to support this important segment of our local economy and environment.”
Detroit follows cities like Philadelphia, Boston, Atlanta, and Washington D.C. in creating the urban agriculture director role.
Duggan said Rushdan was the unanimous choice among the urban farming community.
“She obviously has the experience, but she has so many other qualities,” urban agriculture advocate Kathryn Underwood said at the press conference. “She has basically a quiet demeanor, but don’t be fooled. She will speak truth to power.”
Executive Director of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network Malik Yakini said there is no one better for the job than Rushdan to help protect Detroit’s urban farmers as they move toward food sovereignty.
“As you might know, Detroit is the urban ag capital of the United States,” he said. “So it’s fitting that we have Tepfirah in this position in order to move our collective work forward. The movement in Detroit is growing. Each year we have more and more and more new growers, and so we need someone to help steward this growing movement and give it some shape. And to make sure also, as I know Tepfirah will, that it’s rooted in justice and equity.”