Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Farming in Detroit?

I think this is a great idea. It is the dream of John Hantz, a wildly successful entrepreneur who actually still lives in Detroit and thinks farming could be the future of Detroit. Instead of block after block of dilapidated, abandoned houses there would be farms.

Yes, a farm. A large-scale, for-profit agricultural enterprise, wholly contained within the city limits of Detroit. Hantz thinks farming could do his city a lot of good: restore big chunks of tax-delinquent, resource-draining urban blight to pastoral productivity; provide decent jobs with benefits; supply local markets and restaurants with fresh produce; attract tourists from all over the world; and -- most important of all -- stimulate development around the edges as the local land market tilts from stultifying abundance to something more like scarcity and investors move in. Hantz is willing to commit $30 million to the project. He'll start with a pilot program this spring involving up to 50 acres on Detroit's east side. "Out of the gates," he says, "it'll be the largest urban farm in the world."

Honestly, what else are we going to do with Detroit? Manufacturing is never coming back. The infrastructure is shaky. The jobs have all moved and so have many of the people. There aren't corporations lined up looking to move to Detroit. At the rate of deterioration, Detroit will be a ghost town in a decade, a town that no one will want to be in. It may already be that way for all practical purposes. The scale of Detroit is enormous, far bigger than many other large cities in terms of land area:

But still there's the problem of what to do with the city's enormous amount of abandoned land, conservatively estimated at 40 square miles in a sprawling metropolis whose 139-square-mile footprint is easily bigger than San Francisco, Boston, and Manhattan combined. If you let it revert to nature, you abandon all hope of productive use. If you turn it over to parks and recreation, you add costs to an overburdened city government that can't afford to teach its children, police its streets, or maintain the infrastructure it already has.

40 square miles of abandoned land. Think about that. Something is going to thrive there. It can either be drugs and violence and despair or it can be farms. We are pretty intrigued by this idea. Small scale agriculture in a place where we could also minister as a family. I can think of several friends who might be willing to join in something like this. Live in the community, raise food, proclaim Christ. What a great ministry opportunity and mission field right here in Michigan! It is one thing to drive in from the suburbs and minister to people but it is quite another to live in the mission field itself.

The number one impediment might be the entrenched interests in Detroit, those who are more interested in political power than helping people. People like this guy quoted in the article:

"I'm concerned about the corporate takeover of the urban agriculture movement in Detroit," says Malik Yakini, a charter school principal and founder of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, which operates D-Town Farm on Detroit's west side. "At this point the key players with him seem to be all white men in a city that's at least 82% black."

Mr. Yakini, look around you at this city dying day by day with no hope and no end in sight. So instead of getting past race and focusing on solving the problem, let's reject what could be a great idea with actual capital to back it up and business leaders with a plan because it isn't a racially diverse enough group? Those are the exact sort of attitudes that have led Detroit and Michigan in general to the brink of ruin.

The once great cities of the industrial Midwest are a problem that America cannot ignore. The government has tried throwing money at the problem and it just gets worse. It is high time to let those who have the money because they have been successful get a shot at revitalizing Detroit and Cleveland and Akron. It is not like the situation in Detroit can get much worse.

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Unknown said...

Awesome!!! WHat I also really like about what this will do, is that once individuals start gardening and havign backyard chickens, they will fall in love with it!
Add in community kitchens where young people can learn to cook, and you will have a whole new city!

There is a lady near Seattle that is doing just this.
She has goats, rabbits, chickens and a garden on her back lots and the abandoned one next door.
She teaches bucthering classes, at $100 plus a pop, and is alawys booked full.

People are hungery for this.
Now what we need are Believers who can do this as a ministry!

Unknown said...

So, rereading this possibly your community living project?
Help remove the blight, and feed on all levels?

How many young people would turn around if they had a vege plot, a few chickens and fellowship each evening in a neighbors home?
Hope on all levels.

Anonymous said...

Folks thanks for writing the farming piece in your blog. I happen to know all the people you mentioned in your piece, I am acquainted with Malik and John and have a deep appreciation for both of them. I have serious philosophical differences with each of them, but they need to be respected, because they are both serious, thoughtful people

Malik, is about lifting up people and in particular, black people. Malik has spent his life working toward empowering individuals to do better themselves. This is why he founded and operates a charter school, to educate underserved children. Your characterization that his attitude is the reason Detroit is in a mess is just wrong, and illustrates a lack of understanding of the complex socieity in Detroit.

John Hantz, you know what you have read. Heard his dreams and like Malik, he is interested in improving Detroit, but as john said in a meeting last month in Lansing, "If I buy your business, I pull the strings." John wants to buy massive pieces of Detroit, so he can pull the strings. John has a vision for Detroit, that is his vision. If fully implemented, Detroit will become the home of urban ag, world wide and because of this, jobs will be created. It will be good for some, not so good for others. If you buy into John's vision, and let him pull the strings, you are good, if not you are evil.

Now for my opinion, I am distrustful of the political class that wants to hold onto power in Detroit, and want people to be somewhat dependent upon the political class for the well being.

Likewise, I am equally distrustful of a capatalist, such as John that wants to control people, and land in the same way that the politicians are controlling it.

To maximize Detroit neither John's vision, nor the status quo is acceptable. Detroit should clear off all the rules, give people the land, and let them roll. It is the creativity of a free man that will bring Detroit back, not the policy of the regime or the control of the capitalist.

I'd like to keep my name anonymous because I know both of these guys...


Arthur Sido said...


That is kind of what we were thinking as well. There are lots of things kind of cooking all at once, so we are expecting something pretty radical to happen before the end of this year.

Arthur Sido said...


I appreciate the insight. I still, based solely on the one quote I have read from Malik, categorize his statement as being indicative of the problems of Detroit. I understand that Detroit is complex. We have lived in the suburbs of Detroit, once in Oakland and more recently in Wayne County and I used to work in the downriver area. That doesn’t make me an expert but I get some of what makes Detroit tick and what makes Detroit such a trainwreck.

The one thing that is missing from Detroit and that Mr. Hantz has in abundance is capital for investment. Just turning the city over to people with no skills and no resources would be a disaster. This proposal is not at all perfect but given the state of Detroit, I am not sure what else to do. Better an imperfect solution that has a chance of succeeding and lifting that city out of poverty than no solution at all. Too many proposals assume too many factors that haven’t existed in Detroit for decades and are never coming back.

Anonymous said...

Actually, turning over the city to individuals is John Hantz' proposal. It is modeled after the homestead act of 1862, where the federal government turned over land on the plains to unskilled people with limited resources, and the result was the settling of states like Nebraska....