Water Consortium: Researching and Edifying Water Catchment/Conservation Best Practices for Urban Farmers in Detroit

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2023: $28,870.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2025
Grant Recipient: Sanctuary Farms
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Coordinator:
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Sanctuary Farms

Information Products


Not commodity specific


  • Crop Production: water management, water storage
  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer, survey
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, feasibility study
  • Sustainable Communities: community development, community planning, infrastructure analysis, public policy, sustainability measures, urban agriculture

    Proposal summary:

    A large barrier to the sustainability of many urban farms is consistent water access. Although there are many options such as using a neighbor’s tap, rain catchment, relying on rain, or a combination, any of those may not last or be sufficient as it is or with the increasingly extreme conditions we are experiencing from climate change. Connecting to the city lines is the most secure, yet is costly, confusing, and time consuming here in the city of Detroit and other cities in the region. 

    We are currently experiencing going through the difficult process of securing a tap into the water line and exploring other water security options as we work to double the size of our operation from just under an acre to about 2 acres, which will prove very difficult to maintain under our current watering capabilities.

    Project objectives from proposal:


    • The research we study will include five varying water catchment systems: 1) rainwater harvesting (tote), 2) city main water line tap, 3) fire hydrant conversion, 4) cisterns and 5) water basin comparing variables such as conservation, water quality, cost, ease of installation, and local availability to source. 
      • We are interested in documenting experiences, getting a consensus from local farmers on the types of water catchment systems most preferred and consolidating the knowledge they have on said systems or others in previous settings.
      • Surveys will be taken both in-person and via google forms.
      • We will document 2 farms for each of the 5 varying watering catchments systems (totaling 10 farms), they will be considered "Model Practices Farmers". 
      • We also will enroll 10 beginning, limited resource and historically disadvantaged farmers to learn about best practices, they will be considered "New Practices Farmers".
      • Both "Model Practices Farmers" and "New Practices Farmers" will receive a stipend for the participation. "Model Practices Farmers" will be paid for their interview, survey participation and webinar/in-person meetings. "Aspiring Farmers" will be paid for their survey participation and webinar/in-person meetings, they will also be given financial assistance to help them start up costs in implementing one of the five varying water catchment systems on their farm.
    • The Water Consortium will meet with the Devyn McNaughton of City of Detroit Water and Sewage Department (DWSD) and/or city officials to better understand the how farmer can best navigate the department to figure out which of the five varying water catchment systems is best for them and what all that entails, like permits, applications and cost. We will document the process, and develop a concise plan detailing how best to navigate working with DWSD and other city departments, as needed. We also advocate that they allocate resources, specifically a point person, that has the responsibility to help farmers figure out water catchment solutions for their farm.
    • Once there is a clear consensus on best practices on the five varying water catchment systems with DWSD, we will create an informational piece for farmers to consider water conservation. We will source best water conservation methods with the help of Erma Leaphart, academic studies and utilizing our own internal survey data/interviews from farmers we collected.


    • Create an informational piece highlighting most effective water securing options for urban farms.
    • Develop four webinars and four in-person seminars for "Aspiring Farmers" to learn about the five varying water catchment systems, conservation practices and how to interact with DWSD for their water needs.
    • Detailed outlining each of the five varying water catchment systems with departments to contact, permits to apply for, and list of licensed master plumbers.
    • Share information through our network of community and environmentally centered organizations.
    • Work with Devyn McNaughton of DWSD to develop trusted relationships with the DWSD, with the goal of them seeing the benefit of having a point person for relations with farmers, new and old alike. And foster pathways for farmers to feel more comfortable speaking with DWSD and city officials on their water needs.
    • Provide financial support for aspiring farmers who go through our program to learn about best water catchment and conservation practices.
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.