Urban farm proposal shines hope on Detroit

Articles
April 06, 2009

Urban farm proposal shines hope on Detroit

Crushing losses at General Motors, Ford and Chrysler have devastated Detroit. Empty lots stain entire neighborhoods, foreclosures taint other at-risk homes, unemployment is high, and people feel low. Yet prospects of lush, productive urban farms could soon bring some optimism to this gritty city. Hantz Farms, LLC proposes to convert barren blocks into inner-city agricultural engines that help feed, employ and regenerate the town. As envisioned, in a first phase more than 70 acres of underutilized vacant lands and abandoned properties on Detroit’s lower east side would be used to grow natural, local, fresh and safe fruits and vegetables to meet Michigan’s increasing demand for locally grown produce, the company said. It has aligned with Michigan State University for its expertise on agricultural and soil sciences, and with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, a leader in community-based food systems. “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, said Rick Foster, vice president for programs at the Kellogg Foundation.

Crushing losses at General Motors, Ford and Chrysler have devastated Detroit. Empty lots stain entire neighborhoods, foreclosures taint other at-risk homes, unemployment is high, and people feel low.

Yet prospects of lush, productive urban farms could soon bring some optimism to this gritty city.  Hantz Farms, LLC proposes to convert barren blocks into inner-city agricultural engines that help feed, employ and regenerate the town.

As envisioned, in a first phase more than 70 acres of underutilized vacant lands and abandoned properties on Detroit’s lower east side would be used to grow natural, local, fresh and safe fruits and vegetables to meet Michigan’s increasing demand for locally grown produce, the company said.  It has aligned with Michigan State University for its expertise on agricultural and soil sciences, and with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, a leader in community-based food systems.

“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, said Rick Foster, vice president for programs at the Kellogg Foundation.

The idea is not original, but the scale could make it “the nation’s leading example of urban farming…and a major part of the green movement,” said John Hantz, ceo of Hantz Farms, LLC, and a local financier.  “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,” added Matt Allen, senior vice president of Hantz and earlier press secretary under former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. 

With 40 square miles of vacant parcels estimated to be available in Detroit, the size of this project could expand beyond urban food-growth concepts in Europe, as well as the vertical ‘edible’ wall garden in New York City’s Harlem (being launched April 16),  part of the Urban Farming Food Chain at the Brotherhood-SisterSol after-school program sponsored by Campbell’s Soup. 

SupermarketGuru.com looks forward to further details from Hantz Farms that show exactly how the group plans to urbanize large-scale farm processes—deal with area pollution, maintain quality soil and water conditions, harvest and distribute crops, employ city residents, ensure that crop-loving pests don’t affect nearby residents—and become a model for other communities.

Detroit may be depressed now, but fresh ideas like these are essential to the city’s uplift. If forests can re-grow after wildfires—with the help of sunlight that nurtures life anew at ground level—this great city driven by human spirit and a common purpose can rise again. It would be an inspiration across the United States.