This green veil is proof of how far this city has fallen from its industrial heyday and, to a small group of investors, a clear sign. Detroit, they say, needs to get back to what it was before Henry Ford moved to town: farmland.
“There’s so much land available and it’s begging to be used,” said Michael Score, president of the Hantz Farms, which is buying up abandoned sections of the city’s 139-square-mile landscape and plans to transform them into a large-scale commercial farm enterprise.
“Farming is how Detroit started,” Score said, “and farming is how Detroit can be saved.”
The urban agricultural movement has grown nationwide in recent years, as recession-fueled worries prompted people to raise fruits and vegetables to feed their families and perhaps sell at local farmers’ markets.
Large gardens and small farms — usually 10 acres or less — have cropped up in thriving cities such as Berkeley, where land is tough to come by, and struggling Rust Belt communities such as Flint, Mich., which hopes to encourage green space development and residents to eat locally grown foods.
In Detroit, hundreds of backyard gardens and scores of community gardens have blossomed and helped feed students in at least 40 schools and hundreds of families.
It is the size and scope of Hantz Farms that makes the project unique. Although company officials declined to pinpoint how many acres they might use, they have been quoted as saying that they plan to farm up to 5,000 acres within the Motor City’s limits in the coming years, raising organic lettuces, trees for biofuel and a variety of other things.
The project was launched two years ago by Michigan native and financier John Hantz, who has invested an initial $30 million of his own money toward purchasing equipment and land.
It will start small. Next spring, the farm is expected to begin growing crops on about 30 acres of land, Score said.
Because it has been difficult for Hantz and his team to purchase large contiguous parcels, much of the acreage has been grouped into smaller “pods.” Each will grow different crops, depending on the condition of the soil and what buildings remain on the land, Score said.