Monday, November 22, 2010

More on urban farming and Detroit

Urban Farming: Vacant Public Land Could Provide Most of Detroit's Produce
BY Ariel Schwartz
from Fast Company
Thu Nov 18, 2010

The decline of the automotive industry and subsequent collapse of Detroit has been well documented. But as we explained last year, some entrepreneurs see agricultural opportunity in the city's decay. Now a study from Michigan State University backs them up by revealing that a combination of community gardens, urban farms, and greenhouses in the city could provide locals with more than 75% of their vegetables and 40% of their fruits.

According to PhysOrg, MSU researchers catalogued all vacant land plots in the city (excluding sensitive areas around schools, cemeteries, churches, etc.) and found 44,085 available plots spanning 4,848 acres. All of the plots are publicly owned.

The big task, of course, is to find people to farm all that land -- and pay to cultivate it. Michigan entrepreneur John Hantz invested $30 million last year in the Hantz Farms project, which aims to farm 5,000 acres of city land. So far, Hantz is only working around 30 acres -- a testament to the time and energy it takes to really get farming. But unless the auto industry magically recuperates, Detroit has time to spare.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.

9 comments:

mundiejc said...

Love the idea of urban farming. My dream is to create a network of convicted felons and others who have trouble finding wok in the city, but have some property, to grow And provide produce to non profit groceries in food deserts (especially those near gentrified areas as we can encourage those with to buy at full price and let those on govt assistance get two dollars worth for every 1 dollar on their card. Would disincentivize selling cards for cash (one of my neighborhood rules is I won'ttrade cash for someones stamps... I'd rather find some work for them or just help them out f pocket)

Would create jobs, help with food desert issues, create more intentional community between poor and rich neighbors who might not be as connected otherwise despite their geographical proximity.

The question is... How do I put this together? I'm still working on that one.

Lorlee said...

The number I have heard for Dallas is 19,000 lots -- more than enough to get started here. And yet the City puts roadblocks in the way.

Daniel Gray said...

St. Louis allows citizens to lease lots for community gardens. $1 per lot per year. We also have a nonprofit, Gateway Greening, that promotes urban gardening.

Dallaswatchdog said...

Urban farming in Detroit- akin to Nero's fiddling while Rome burned.

Lorlee said...

actually Watchdog -- I think it is more akin to "teaching a man to fish." So do you have any suggestions to actually solve the food desert proble or is your solution to simply let people starve?

It would be nice if you actually thought about being part of the solution rather than simply someone who critisizes.

Ken said...

striving toward peasanthood...

Lorlee said...

So Ken -- where do you think your food comes from.

Farming is and always has been an honorable profession. And if one is hungry, pride, prujudice and meaningless titles mean nothing.

Ken said...

Corporate farms. They are efficient, produce high quality foods of a wide variety, at a very high volume - meaning they feed the world. Large farms integrate quite easily into large-scale logistics, transportation, and processing systems. Small plot farms don't serve very many people - though some do romanticize the experience of sorting through twisted potatoes at a local farmers' market.

Politicizing the food market has led to famine and job destruction all over the world. Leasing land for far less than it is worth (1$/yr/plot) devalues both work and food. Further, 1-plot, peasant farmers are still dependent on other forms of income, which often comes in the form of government aid. By investing time and energy into an inefficient planting/management/harvesting system, they are paying an opportunity cost - they could be learning a skill that will keep them employed year-round and avoid keeping them dependent on the next government program.

The best thing Detroit can do with all this open space is lease or sell it to investors who can afford to sit on it for awhile. Then drop the state and local property tax rates to encourage investment and business growth.

Government does have a role - strengthen schools, fight crime, and keep the area clean.

This plan sounds cruel to liberals b/c it places the property in the hands of "the rich" and causes a delay in getting resources into the hands of "the poor." However, "the poor" will remain peasants so long as they do not develop marketable skills.

Reality check on aisle 9, Lorlee.

Larry James said...

Ken, all that say sounds great. Only trouble is, it's not working for innercity poor folks who reside in food deserts all over urban America. I can take you to part os Dallas where neighborhoods are so poor, so mired in poverty that an investor would be crazy to buy and hold. Your job training idea is a good one that we follow here. But in the meantime, folks can come together and raise food. Gardens become community building and organizing tools that contribute to declines in crime and increases in political/civic engagement.