Urban farming in Detroit gets mixed reviews

Mar 10, 2011

John Hantz wants to turn a blighted swath of Detroit into what he calls "the world’s largest urban farm." But the project, which has been in the works for nearly two years, has been slow to get off the ground. 

City officials just approved a deal to let Hantz Farms buy 20 city lots (about five acres) adjacent to their headquarters. The company plans to clean up the land and create some small orchards.

Roadblocks to city farming

  • Hantz Farms is not allowed to sell anything they grow there.
  • Large-scale farming requires re-zoning for agriculture, which brings the Michigan Right to Farm Act into play; that law is meant to protect farmers from people who complain about the sounds and smells of regular farming. Some people worry it would give Hantz Farms’ neighbors little recourse if there are problems.

And then, there’s fairly widespread skepticism about the idea of large-scale urban farming. Councilman Kwame Kenayatta is one of the skeptics:

"I understand that we got a lot of land. And some of that land can be used as green space, that’s true. But this whole idea of turning vacant Detroit into an urban farm is not necessarily one that I have bought into."

Hantz Farms hails the five-acre land acquisition as "a milestone," but also says it's "just the beginning."