Will Detroit’s Hantz Farms be the World’s First Urban Farm?

In a few weeks, Detroit-based  Hantz Farms will present the Detroit City Council with its plan to build the largest urban farm the nation has ever seen. The plan has been years and millions of dollars in the making, and there’s no doubt that it has the potential to reinvent the city’s economy, creating jobs while blighted areas are transformed to lush farmland. Even though the project, at this point, exists only on paper, it has already drawn press interest from outlets as varied and widespread as the BBC, the Atlantic magazine, and ABC News.

As any astute observer of the media has already noted, the reinvention of Detroit is a topic du jour that never seems to run out of steam. Whether it’s Dan Gilbert’s Detroit Venture Partners seeding IT ventures and mobile app labs, or the Big Three delving into advanced battery-powered automotives, investors seem determined to transform Detroit into a hub for cleantech. Hantz Farms envisions a reinvention of an entirely different sort, one that takes Detroit back to its pre-Industrial Age roots, when it was a scrappy community along the river known for soil so potent one of its districts was referred to by the French as “Black Bottom.”

But Hantz Farms’ proposed agrarian reinvention project isn’t without stumbling blocks. It requires the city to demolish vacant structures on a fairly aggressive timeline and then adhere to its own blight ordinances thereafter, which has historically been a struggle for Detroit.

Then there’s the Michigan Right to Farm Act, which was created to protect farmers from nuisance suits but also, in effect, prohibits farming in heavily populated areas. The proposed Hantz Farm project spans hundreds of acres across neighborhoods on the east side of Detroit—that would require local legislative intervention. Then there are the people in the affected areas themselves: Do they want to live in the middle of a farm? Have they even been consulted?

In addition to worldwide media, it’s safe to say that companies across the globe who would like to erect similar farming projects in other cash-poor, land-rich cities along the rust belt are watching to see what Detroit does with Hantz Farms. Will it be a revolutionary first step in a new form … Next Page »

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Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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