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Urban Farming in Detroit – What A Great Idea

September 3, 2010 · 20 comments

in Life

I have written a few posts that have discussed the economy where I live, and specifically, some of the issues in Detroit.

However, there is one project that is being undertaken in Detroit, that is a very interesting idea – urban farming.

When you think of Detroit, the last thing you think of is agriculture.  Most people would associate cars, or crime with Detroit, even though the city’s roots are in agriculture.  However, there are 40,000 acres of vacant land in Detroit right now, which equates to 40 square miles.  Volunteers are making the most of this space by planting gardens in this vacant space.  Some of the vegetables in the gardens are free to those who live nearby, and some is sold to markets or are used in soup kitchens.

However, it isn’t just volunteers that are interested in developing land in Detroit for farming.  Financier John Hantz has already committed $30 million toward his plan, which is to develop 5,000 acres for agriculture.  It is Hantz’s goal to create the largest urban farm in the world, as stated on his website.

Considering the fact that experts call Detroit a ‘food desert’, only good can come of providing more fresh produce to the city.  The number of liquor stores way outnumber the grocery stores in the neighborhoods (one area is stated to have 26 liquor stores and one grocery store), and so it is not surprising that obesity is an issue in the city.  Perhaps as people have greater access to produce, they will be motivated to create their own gardens and take a step toward healthier eating.

I have been thinking for awhile now that something has to replace the industry/manufacturing that has left the area.  I admit that I never thought agriculture would be what would return to the city, I was thinking more along the lines of biotech or something more ‘cutting edge’ than farming.  However, I find it interesting that Detroit may actually come full circle and return to agriculture.

It will be very fascinating to watch how this idea develops, and  I am hoping farming in Detroit really takes off.  Perhaps the plan will a success, and will be an example to other cities that have similar problems.

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Nicole September 3, 2010 at 8:49 am

I remember when NPR and the NYTimes was doing a bunch of stories on this. It’s a great idea. The midwest has wonderful soil and great growing conditions. One NYTimes (I think) article was a little worrisome though about how chemicals in the soil can get into plants and vegetables and had some suggestions on how to mitigate that.


Kris September 4, 2010 at 8:50 am

Nicole – I too have worried about the chemicals that may be leeching in the soil. However, I do know they do a lot of prep at these gardens, although I am sure the roots go deeper than the soil they prep with.


Lola September 3, 2010 at 10:57 am

It’s wonderful to hear that there’s such strong interest in promoting community gardens in Detroit!

I participated last month in a tour of the community gardens here in my city, and I was amazed at all the projects going on. A really neat feature of the garden projects here was the effort to include artwork within or near the gardens, especially using found (ie. recycled junk) objects. One garden was started by a judge who oversees Family/Drug Court cases, and she sends a lot of the cases (especially kids) to work in the garden to fulfill their community service. She calls is “restoring and being restored to the community.”

It was very inspiring – I might expand my humble gardening efforts next year!


Kris September 4, 2010 at 8:51 am

Lola – I was also inspired to expand my garden next year! I am really excited to see how this idea develops, if at all. I know that they financier I mentioned in the article was being met with resistance, so we will see.


Budgeting in the Fun Stuff September 3, 2010 at 11:07 am

Gardening (like most hobbies) also helps with depression, so this could have mental benefits too in a hard hit area like Detroit. 🙂


Kris September 4, 2010 at 8:51 am

BFS – You are right. I love working in the garden, when the heat isn’t oppressive of course. Also, there is nothing better than garden tomatoes!


Little House September 3, 2010 at 11:44 am

What a terrific idea. Not only is it productive, but it probably makes the unused space appear more aesthetic as well. It will be interesting to watch how Detroit transforms itself over the next decade.


Money Reasons September 3, 2010 at 1:17 pm

That’s a pretty amazing plan! I don’t think I’ve ever heard of such an idea, but it makes sense! We have a city nearby that has a field far from the city, that the residents can grow food on. Most of the plots are small, but they have been using them for years. Since at night, they are pretty much in a field, I often worry about vandals…

I hope your city farming attempt fares well!


Kris September 4, 2010 at 8:53 am

Money Reasons – From what I have read, people seem to respect the gardens so far, but time will tell. As the plan develops and more land is planted, I plan on visiting and looking in to volunteering, depending on where they are.


Carol@inthetrenches September 3, 2010 at 2:13 pm

VERY EXCITING!! I hope that you will keep us updated and have subscribed to find out the latest. Here’s a post on the same subject you might enjoy. Community gardens are one of the best opportunities we have for improving our communities and helping the 40 million currently on food stamps and the rest of the taxpayers who pay for it. http://inthetrenches2009.blogspot.com/2010/07/american-opportunity-community-gardens.html


Kris September 4, 2010 at 8:54 am

Trenches – I will post a follow up, as I plan to track the progress. Also, thanks for the link, I will check it out!


Kevin@InvestItWisely September 3, 2010 at 4:42 pm

This is a great development. It will be much nicer to see derelict land turn into community farming or parkland! It could also help to bring the community together.


Kris September 4, 2010 at 8:55 am

Kevin – assuming the soil is farmable, I can’t see one downside to community gardens. You mentioned several positives, and it would be nice if they could also develop some of the land into parks. The parks in Detroit are currently a disaster, it is so very sad.


The Biz of Life September 3, 2010 at 6:00 pm

I don’t think urban gardening will revive the economy of Detroit, but it will help improve the spirits of the gardeners.


Kris September 4, 2010 at 8:57 am

Biz of Life – I don’t think it will revive the economy, but the residents are in desperate need of fresh produce. I don’t know if you have been to Detroit, but there are so few grocery stores. If you want liquor or want to gamble, you have plenty of options, of course. There are actually some trucks that drive through the neighborhoods selling fresh produce, which is also a great idea. It is so strange how you can have one of the wealthiest counties in the country bordering Detroit to the north, and it is a complete shambles in the city itself.


Squirrelers September 4, 2010 at 1:33 am

It’s quite interesting what’s going on in Detroit. Hard to imagine that Detroit proper had about 2 million residents in 1950, but now has less than 900,000. I think that number will continue to plummet.

My folks were at Michigan State in the 1960’s. They tell me how Detroit wasn’t as bad then, that people actually shopped downtown at a grand Hudson’s store – it was a destination.

I may have mentioned it before here, but I spent a few months in Detroit some years ago, and found it remarkable how a once-great city was in such horrendous shape. Yet, many of the suburban areas were very nice. The drive on Jefferson (I think that’ the name) from the Grosse Pointe suburbs into the city is a remarkable, stark contrast between affluence and the total lack of it. Check out a Google Maps view of it, it’s quite interesting. Lots of empty lots.

I used to fly out of an old airport in the inner city of Detroit, I think it was called City Airport at the time. Just a few gates, that’s it. Anyway, it was interesting to me how there were so many open lots not far from that – and those weren’t close to being the worst areas.

Converting these open areas to farms can only help. At least something good can come out of it.

I root for Detroit to reinvent itself in some way. It’s a proud city that’s taken a few too many punches, and has elected some less than competent people in the past.


Kris September 4, 2010 at 9:00 am

Squirrelers – Both my parents grew up in the city, and the watched how the city fell apart. My mom used to talk about how they would dress up and take the bus down to the Hudson’s store and shop downtown. You are right, it was an ‘event’, and the city was prosperous. I drove them by the homes they grew up in and then were so upset afterward, what a mistake I made! (And that was 20 years ago.)

It will be interesting to see how the city (hopefully) progresses. There has been so much corruption. I am sure the population is well under 900,000.

Thanks for the reflective comment!


Jeff Kosola September 11, 2010 at 3:00 pm

I would love to see this work in Detroit, but I fear it will be just like everything else in the city, corrupt. The city government just can’t get their act together and this will prove to be a good idea while they will not be able to implement it.


Kris September 11, 2010 at 6:10 pm

Jeff, I agree that so much in the city is corrupt. Watching city council meetings is like watching a really bad sitcom that you can’t even believe it is real.

I was listening to a radio show last week about the farming in Detroit, and the DJ felt it was insulting that the city may ‘regress’ back to farming. They felt that it was a big step backward. However, what she doesn’t get it that nothing else is happening, nothing else is working. Why not try something new and get some fresh produce to these hungry families? I think a lot of cities are in transition right now, and you have to open to any and all ideas. Detroit has easy access to water, shipping and land. Why not give it a try?


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