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Detroit’s Urban Agriculture

April 11, 2011

Businessman John Hantz has proposed the world’s largest for-profit commercial urban farm in the middle of Detroit, Michigan. The farm would be about 20,000 acres in a sprawling city with a shrinking population. Twenty thousand acres seems absolutely huge in the middle of an urban environment, but Detroit is physically large as well (Boston, San Francisco and Manhattan could all fit into the geographical area of Detroit).

There has been a lot of talk about reinventing and restructing the city to try to lift its economic state and boost its population; some have suggested shrinking the city geographically so the population that is there would move into revitalized neighborhoods. Other suggestions include using much of the abandoned land for farming. That’s where John Hantz’s idea comes in.

Hantz Farms have faced a major challenge — The Right to Farm Act. It was originally designed to protect farmers from minor lawsuits, and states that municipalities cannot place restrictions on farms already under operation. Many worry that officials would not be able to regulate Hantz Farms once it is up and running so discussions to amend or create new policy for farming within the city are under way. Another obstacle is the Detroit Works Project, which aims to produce a “collective vision for Detroit’s future at the neighborhood, city and metropolitan scale.” In thinking about the development of neighborhoods and the city, the Task Force and Project teams must decide whether huge urban farms will help them realize their goals.

Hantz was recently approved by the city council to purchase 20 parcels of land (about 5 acres), but with the restriction that the farm cannot sell any produce nor grow any crops without the city’s consent. So for the time being, Hantz plans to clean up the parcels, do some planting, and show the city how it can transform an abandoned urban lot into something more beautiful. Ultimately, Hantz argues, the farm will create a local food-based job market and improve the economy of the area.

I read many different opinions on the project, many are for the farm and believe it will help the people of Detroit gain jobs and have access to local food. Others say it could be another venue for a huge monoculture, or that the land would require remediation before crops could be sold. I think one of the most interesting points I read is that Detroit has seen the rise of many small community gardens that are doing quite well and receive support from non-profits and other organizations. So why not take the 20,000 acres and divide it into 2000 community gardens of 10 acres each?

What do you think of the Hantz Farm? Detroit provides an amazing opportunity to be able to think about the design of a city and how to best revitalize a community.

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 23, 2011 4:45 am

    Hey there,
    it’s nice that you invite people to leave comments behind.
    My two cents: If i am getting it right, the whole lot of urban gardening in Detroit is done (although not certified) done ecologically. I heard that Hantz isn’t producing in a sustainable, ecological way.
    It is true that it would provide new jobs. Can’t speak against that, but is it necessary? Isn’t the price for those jobs too high?
    I.e. to let non biological growing methods into a good working system again? One that is healthy, working & sustainable? Besides the fact that one person owning so much land… it is (in the most cases) too much. Too much power & control.
    My two pence.

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