February 1, 2013

Corporate takover of urban farming?

Yes Magazine - Today, a different model of urban agriculture has made an appearance in Detroit, and many community gardeners there are opposing it. For the past four years, local businessman John Hantz has been taking steps to create what he calls “the world’s largest urban farm.” His company, Hantz Farms, asked the city for permission to buy up about 1,500 parcels of city-owned land. That’s about 140 acres—the largest sale of land by area in the city’s history.

Because Detroit lacks an agricultural ordinance, planting trees is one of the few agricultural activities currently permitted. So Hantz Farms  started out by doing just that, planting young oaks, maples, and poplars and mowing the grass around them on the acres it already owns. So the land deal seems to promise more of an urban forest than an urban farm. It won't supply much in the way of food or jobs. It won't provide the city much money, either, as Hantz will pay about $300 on average per plot.

Nevertheless, that deal was approved by a 5-4 vote in the City Council, after a raucous hearing that at one point had to be called into recess because activists refused to give up the floor.

Those activists include not just local urban gardeners but also real estate agents concerned about property values and local residents. They question what the deal will mean for the city’s income, urban character, and food security.

“Trees are not going to increase taxable revenue,” Crouch explained. What they will do instead, he said, is “create scarcity” in the city’s real estate market, raising the value of nearby houses and eventually raising the value of the land on which the trees are growing.

That means Hantz Farms might eventually make a great deal of money selling off the land it’s now buying cheaply—a prospect that angers many community members.

A different vision of urban agriculture

Size is not the only difference between Hantz’s project and what came before. Hantz Farms is considering a type of agriculture very different from the one practiced by Detroit’s established gardeners.

No comments: