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

9/19/11Follow @XconomyDET

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 »

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

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  • Jerry Jeff

    Interesting story. 40 square miles of vacant land is crazy–the entire city of Boston is only 48 sq miles.

  • colin thomas

    World’s first urban farm???? Hardly, there have been urban farms all over the world for many years in various sizes. Perhaps this may be the biggest yet which is great. I hope this helps Detroit climb out of the hole they have found themselves in.

  • Patrick de Freitas

    The odd part of all this hype is that Detroit already has lots of farms. It’s just that they’re called Community Gardens — and they’re all over town. They get ignored.

    With the amount of attention and city expenditures already pushed in the direction of Hantz Farm, the city could have helped those very community gardens and the numerous citizens they involve & train. The city could have bought equipment, cleared land, assured title to property, and trained citizens in food production.

    Instead, once again, the city — and Xconomy — is seduced by Big Ideas. It’s the small steps that’ll make Detroit a liveable city.

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  • http://www.FOYcommunications.com J. E. Foy

    Some careful reading would help your perceived slight, colin t’: “the largest urban farm the NATION has ever seen…”

    And, as a former longtime Boston resident & booster, jerry jeff:
    Detroit has a total area of 143.0 square miles (370 km2); of this, 138.8 square miles (359 km2) is land and 4.2 square miles (11 km2) is water.
    Boston has a total area of 89.6 square miles (232.1 km2)—48.4 square miles (125.4 km2) (54.0%) of land and 41.2 SQUARE MILES (106.7 km2) (46.0%) OF WATER
    i.e., the stat’ is correct, and Detroit is a lot larger – has a lot more land – than Boston.

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  • Aphrodite

    There are over 3,000 urban farms and gardens in the city of Detroit, THIS will NOT be the first one.

  • sue

    SuePosted July 31, 2012 at 5:45 pm | PermalinkAs
    of August, 2012, Hantz is trying to grow a crop of trees that take many
    years to mature. How is this supposed to help Detroit? Sure it would
    cut the grass and clean the lots, but the same thing will happen if the
    city would let it’s citizens, who want land to build on, buy the land.
    We are blocked at every turn. We can’t even buy lots next to our homes.
    Is this justice? Many people would feel better if the project was
    headed by a committee that represented the people instead of one
    businessman trying to set up his own private plantation in a city with a
    large minority population.