No, I haven’t had a suddenly lapse in my knowledge of geography; I found this article on cnn.com the other day and wanted to pass it on. It’s been well-documented in the news that Detroit is a shrinking city, some would say an abandoned city. Neighborhoods emptied, sometimes bulldozed. Commercial districts vacant. The article addresses one man’s vision about saving the city with farming. http://money.cnn.com/2009/12/29/news/economy/farming_detroit.fortune/index.htm
At first blush, I was really excited to see the headline, “Yes, turn vacant lots into small farms, feed the population that’s still there.” Even with the exodus, Detroit still has a population of around 900,000 people — that’s a decent market. But the more I read, the less enthusiastic I became about this man’s, John Hantz, vision. “We need scarcity. We can’t create opportunities, but we can create scarcity,” was his quote that took me off guard. Scarcity? As I read on, I realized that his idea of farming stems from the fact that Detroit literally has acres upon acres of unused land — an abundance of abandoned property — forsaken by the Motor City. Hantz’s believes if that land were transformed into a farm, there would be less vacant land, and when the supply drops, demand grows.
In a nutshell, Hantz wants to turn a large tract of Detroit into an urban farm in order to drive down the supply of land, and thus drive up demand for it and ultimately attract investors. Plus, he acknowledges that turning the vacant lots with crumbling buildings into greenscapes will make them visually attractive. I can’t argue with that, but what niggles at me is the spirit of the enterprise. There is little mention of food in the article; the actual agriculture part of the picture is secondary to the idea of land scarcity and development. The real point of his whole plan is to attract development around the farms, not farming itself.
Perhaps I shouldn’t says farms; right now it is farm (singular) what he calls “the largest urban farm in the world.” At 50 acres, he’d be correct, but is it right? Some of his neighbors are on board — in the desperate climate of Detriot, new ideas are welcomed like lifeboats in shark-infested waters. Other neighbors, the pioneers of Detroit’s urban farming, are unhappy with his vision. Detroit has a growing local food network, and those folks have not been asked to the table for Hantz’s project. Furthermore, this is not a landlink for beginning farmers. The initial project, 50 acres, will be owned by him, thus the people actually doing the farming will be employees. The farms themselves will have a sense of uniformity with what crops are grown; at this point, all mention was fruits and vegetables, nary a chicken or an egg to be found. With that much land, there could be a mix of livestock, but my sense is that livestock are not aesthetically pleasing enough to live on his farm. There will be no natural feeling to these farms either, his talk is of “straight lines” and planned patterns. The design will be planned, down to the last green bean.
So while on one hand I applaud the notion of agriculture as a saving grace, I’m not sure that this particular plan is the way civic agriculture and local foods can flourish. Read the article and decide for yourself.