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SEED Wayne

656 W. Kirby
3198 Faculty/Administration Building
Detroit, Michigan 48202

Kami Pothukuchi

By Matthew Lewis
July 10, 2013

When you think of the leading institutions in agriculture and food systems education, urban universities might not be the first that come to mind. That, however, might change after a visit to Wayne State's weekly farmers market.

Cass Avenue comes alive every Wednesday between June and November as local farmers arrange their produce on tables in front of Wayne State Business School's Prentis Hall. Chefs hold cooking demonstrations beneath the gap in the building. Students, faculty, and other people working near campus mill about, shopping for locally grown produce, eating lunch in the shade, and chatting with friends. Amid all of this activity, Kami Pothukuchi paces around the marketplace, checking in with vendors and coordinating all of the market activity.

Pothukuchi is an Associate Professor of urban planning at Wayne State and the director of the Wayne State Farmers Market. The market is one of several initiatives of SEED Wayne, an organization founded by Pothukuchi in 2008 that is dedicated to building sustainable food systems on the campus of Wayne State University and in Detroit communities.

Under the SEED Wayne umbrella, Pothukuchi coordinates three campus gardens (one of which is located on top of a parking structure) that help supply campus dining halls with produce and are fertilized with composted dining hall waste. She also writes for the Seedling (the organization's newsletter that provides information on its various programs, as well as tips for healthy eating and cooking), consults with urban agriculture organizations and community groups around the city, and helps corner stores in Detroit stock up with fresh and healthy foods through SEED Wayne's Detroit FRESH program. On top of all of this, Pothukuchi teaches courses like "Cities and Food" in Wayne State's Department of Urban Studies and Planning.

Pothukuchi is a busy woman. Her passion for food systems and food justice issues is immense. A well-respected academic in her field, Pothukuchi is a professor who puts her ideas into practice, uniting her academic interests in social justice and sustainability issues in food systems planning. As a practitioner, her work is often the subject of her own research. According to Pothukuchi, SEED Wayne represents one of the most comprehensive campus food system initiatives in the country.

While Pothukuchi is the driving force behind SEED Wayne, she is the first to point out that the major strength of the organization is its student leadership and its partnerships with community groups around the city. SEED Wayne is an active member on the Detroit Food Policy Council, an advisory body to the Detroit City Council that played a large role in the drafting and adoption of Detroit's urban agriculture ordinance, which passed in March 2013.

SEED Wayne's relationship with the Capuchin Soup Kitchen and Earthworks Farm is another partnership contributing to a healthier local food system in Detroit. SEED Wayne helped them construct a passive solar greenhouse for agricultural entrepreneurial training for community members on Detroit's near east side.

Pothukuchi sees SEED Wayne's work as fulfilling Wayne State's mission, arguing that the university cannot exist as an island. "We are a public university based in an inner city. We have adopted an urban mission. It has to do with more than helping students become employees. It's about helping students imagine a better society and helping them build the skills to get us there. I see SEED Wayne as helping the university fulfill its urban mission," says Pothukuchi.

Through her leadership, Pothukuchi is helping cultivate a new generation of student leaders coming from various academic disciplines who are dedicated to food justice issues. "If I were to get hit by a bus tomorrow, I know that there would be others to continue the work of SEED Wayne," says Pothukuchi.

SEED Wayne's next move is to develop cross-campus, hands on curriculum around food systems, something that would be unique among the nation's urban universities. In the meantime, initiatives like Wayne State's Farmers Market are educating the local community about food systems while making the campus neighborhood a more enjoyable and healthier place to live and work.

All photos by Doug Coombe. 

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