Is Farming The New Best Thing?
I think it’s pretty damn cool
Detroit used to be a city of 2 million people. As the economy collapsed, people fled. Fewer than 900,000 remain and the population continues to decrease. The only thing that continues to rise is the jobless rate which went up as recently as November, when it was reported to be over 15%, and maybe as high as 27% in the worst downtown areas. So they have that going for them. And with the loss of jobs and people has come an increase in abandoned land. In fact, over 40 square miles of a total 139, in this sprawling metropolis is now empty.
According to an article from CNNMoney:
Nothing yet tried in Detroit even begins to address the fundamental issue of emptiness — empty factories, empty office buildings, empty houses, and above all, empty lots. Rampant arson, culminating in the annual frenzy of Devil’s Night, is partly to blame. But there has also been a lot of officially sanctioned demolition in Detroit. As white residents fled to the suburbs over the decades, houses in the decaying neighborhoods they left behind were often bulldozed.
Abandonment is an infrastructure problem, when you consider the cost of maintaining far-flung roads and sewer systems; it’s a city services problem, when you think about the inefficiencies of collecting trash and fighting crime in sparsely populated neighborhoods; and it’s a real estate problem. Houses in Detroit are selling for an average of $15,000.
Former HUD secretary and current chairman of the private equity group, CityView, Henry Cisneros believes that the idea of urban agriculture is a viable solution to Detroit’s problems. Other experts agree.
Enter John Hantz, major millionaire and resident of Detroit, who remains in the city, doing business and maintaining his home, while others of his class participate in the exodus. Hantz has formed Hantz Farms and hired Mike Score, an educator and consultant with 30 years experience in agricultural production, food system economic and community development to serve as president.
Hantz’ vision is of a technologically advanced and aesthetically pleasing design that features small (300 acre) farm pods throughout areas that are now just urban blight. Hantz is willing to commit 30 million to the project.
From Hantz Farms’ website:
Phase 1 plans utilize more than 70 acres of underutilized vacant lands and abandoned properties on Detroit’s lower east side.
Hantz Farms plans to grow natural, local, fresh and safe fruits and vegetables to help meet Michigan’s increasing demand for locally grown produce. In addition to food and trees, Hantz Farms will harvest wind energy and utilize geothermal heat and biomass fuel from recycling compost.
Hantz Farms is working directly with Michigan State University to add its expertise on agricultural and soil sciences and consulting with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, a national leader in community-based food systems.
“It makes great sense to utilize the blighted and abandoned land in the city to produce fresh, nutritious food for local consumers,” said Rick Foster, vice president for programs at the Kellogg Foundation. “Urban development projects like this one not only create good food and connection to nature, but serve as an economic development anchor for others in the community.”
“Urban agriculture is an opportunity to provide an effective economic development program for the Detroit community. MSU’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources has been providing expert advice to Hantz Farms along with the MSU’s Michigan Agriculture Experiment Station and MSU Extension to develop a productive outreach and engagement program as part of the proposal,” said Jeffry D. Armstrong, Dean of the Michigan State University College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “This is a challenging and exciting opportunity.”
Heading up Hantz Farms LLC, will be Matt Allen, a Detroit resident and advocate for Hantz’s vision.
“The combination of land consolidation, blight removal, conservation of city services and the beautification of the city itself are just some of the byproducts that will come from our commitment to urban farming,” Allen said. “We’re very excited to be able to make strides in helping to make Detroit a progressive, world-class leader in providing fresh, locally grown food that’s safe and purely Detroit.”
Urban farming is hardly a new concept and in fact is practiced with great success in many parts of the world. For example: In Shanghai, only 20% of the land administered by the city authorities is actually built on; 80% of the land, mainly in the urban perimeter, isused for crop growing, making the city region self-sufficient in vegetables and producing much of the rice, pork, chicken, duck and carp. (source “Urban Agriculture and Sustainable Cities” by Deestra and Girardet.)
More greenspace can improve the microclimate of densely populated cities, as well as lower emissions by reducing the need to truck food in from great distances as we do for most cities in the U.S. today. Food is fresher, can be farmed sustainably and the need for packaging is even diminished, since one of the main reasons for dense packaging is protection during long range deliveries.
It’s hard to find a downside to reclaiming urban blight and returning the land to agricultural production. John Hantz and the city of Detroit just may be on to something big.