Architecture & Design, Nonprofits, and Sustainability

Furniture maker partners on urban 'agrihood' project

December 12, 2016
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Herman Miller agrihood Community Resource Center partial rendering
A partial rendering of the MUFI Community Resource Center in an "agrihood" in Detroit. Courtesy Herman Miller

A furniture maker is teaming up on a building renovation project that will bring a community resource center focused on agriculture to a Detroit neighborhood.

Zeeland-based Herman Miller said last month it is joining forces with Sustainable Brands, BASF, General Motors and Green Standards to support The Michigan Urban Farming Initiative, or MUFI, a Detroit-based nonprofit with a mission to use urban agriculture as a platform to promote education, sustainability and community and to uplift and empower urban neighborhoods.

MUFI said it is “debuting America's first sustainable urban agrihood,” an alternative neighborhood growth model in Detroit's lower North End, which “positions agriculture as the centerpiece of a mixed-use urban development.”

Community center design

Herman Miller will lend its design expertise to the new MUFI Community Resource Center, or CRC, being renovated in the agrihood — to create “purposeful, multi-use spaces” that will “enhance collaboration and foster a sense of community.”

The project partners plan to restore a three story, long-vacant building across from MUFI's urban garden into the Community Resource Center and transform adjacent vacant land into a healthy food café.

The 3,200 square foot, box-shaped CRC will offer educational programs, event and meeting space and serve as MUFI’s new headquarters.

It will also house two commercial kitchens on the first floor that will service the café and allow for the future production and packaging of "valued goods."

The project is scheduled to be unveiled as part of the Sustainable Brands '17 Detroit conference, held at the Cobo Center from May 22-25.

Surplus furniture

Herman Miller will also help outfit the CRC through its recently announced rePurpose partnership with GM.

GM is repurposing tens of thousands of surplus office assets resulting from the renovations occurring at its Warren Technical Center, Milford Proving Ground and global headquarters in Detroit.

Managed by the Toronto-based environmental firm Green Standards, rePurpose diverts 99 percent of no-longer-needed office furniture and supplies from landfills and "transforms them into valuable in-kind donations" to nonprofits.

Since Herman Miller launched the rePurpose program in 2009, it has diverted more than 27,000 tons of product from landfills and generated $18 million in charitable in-kind donations.

Agrihood

MUFI's urban agrihood features a two-acre urban garden with more than 300 vegetable varieties, a 200-tree fruit orchard, a children's sensory garden and more.

Annually, the urban garden provides fresh, free produce to about 2,000 households within two square miles of the farm.

Since its first growing season in 2012, MUFI has distributed more than 50,000 pounds of free produce.

"Over the last four years, we've grown from an urban garden that provides fresh produce for our residents to a diverse, agricultural campus that has helped sustain the neighborhood, attracted new residents and area investment," said Tyson Gersh, president and co-founder, MUFI.

He said this is part of a larger trend being seen across the country where “people are re-defining what life in the urban environment looks like.”

“We provide a unique offering and attraction to people who want to live in interesting spaces with a mix of residential, commercial, transit and agriculture,” Gersh said.

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