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School's organic farm inspires film

Lots of people want to make movies in Detroit…we're a great backdrop for sci-fi thrillers (The Island) or dramas that need a gritty backdrop (Gran Torino).

But not many filmmakers make movies ABOUT this notorious city. That is why Grown in Detroit, a documentary by two Dutch filmmakers, is so impressive.

If you missed its recent public-television debut, Grown in Detroit is a one-hour documentary about Catherine Ferguson Academy, a Detroit Public School dedicated to helping pregnant and parenting teens complete their high-school education.

More than 300 girls and their children attend the school. One of the many things that make the Academy different is the farm they started. The girls grow organic vegetables, raise fruit trees, tend to honey bees, take care of animals. The goal is to feed these families both body and soul. They sell the extra harvest at Eastern Market, the area's beloved historic public marketplace.

So how did a husband and wife from the Netherlands hear about this urban garden half a world away? Believe it or not, filmmaker Mascha Poppenk was an exchange student in Michigan some 20 years ago, and she was in town visiting her host family and friends when she heard of the school.

In Detroit alone, more than 3,000 pregnant teens will drop out of high school each year. Yet those lucky ones who get in thrive at the Academy, which has an astonishing graduation rate of 90 percent.

Mascha and Manfred Poppenk filmed in Detroit for almost three months. They immersed themselves in the city and the farm, ignoring friends' worries about their safety.

“We cannot be any whiter, the three of us, but they let us in,” Mascha Poppenk said of herself, husband and their camera woman Suzan van Steenwijk. “We felt so welcome. Everyone was so warm. They let us into their lives. It was an honor.”

In fact, the Poppenks applied for a green card to live in the United States; more specifically, they want to settle in Detroit.

“We love that city. It is the city of tomorrow, I totally believe in that,” Mascha said.

The film was well received in Holland, Mascha said. Next month, the couple will screen the film again, this time at the Austin Film Festival in Texas.

“We need to create a buzz because we want to come back and make more films,” Mascha said.

To check out the film, go to the Poppenks' web site. You will need a password to see the film. I think it's worth the effort. Check it out here.

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