Go West Young Man!
According to Bloomberg News (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-08-09/foodies-fight-to-save-Detroit-with-job-hopes..., Detroit's "new urban frontier" is a lot like the Wild West. Grow enough to support your family, make do with what you have, and rely on your neighbors for help.
Urban farmer Greg Willerer says, "For all intents and purposes, there is no government here." If something were to happen, we have to handle that ourselves." He is, of course, referring to the total breakdown in city services as a result of Detroit's financial situation impelling the city in July to file for bankruptcy protection.
Detroit's Urban Farming Needs and Prospects
Detroit, spread over 130 square miles (360 square kilometers) has some 150,000 vacant and abandoned parcels, an amount roughly the size of Manhattan! A study shows that converting some of this land to farming--with enough consumer demand and development of a food-processing industry--could generate 4,700 jobs and $20 million in business taxes.
The Detroit Future City vision calls for transforming vacant land in part to urban farms and, according to the Bloomberg News report, "to create village-like neighborhoods clustered within a half-mile of schools." In this vision, farms would become part of the 29 percent of the city allocated to landscape by 2050. This past March, the city changed its zoning to enable farming.
Farming Challenges in Detroit
Detroit's farmers can sell to local restaurants, at farmers markets within the city, and via community-supported agricultural projects (CSAs) that link growers directly with consumers. Greg Willerer says, he can make $20,000 to $30,000 a year per acre.
Nevertheless, Detroit, like other metropolitan areas in the north of the U.S., has a shorter growing season. Moreover, although money may be saved transporting produce to very, local markets, if greenhouses are used, the farmer faces higher energy costs.
What I Still Want to Know
Although the Bloomberg News report paints a fairly, hopeful picture for urban farming in Detroit, I still want to hear:
- What about organic cultivation? Is anyone encouraging this? Willerer is concerned about lead-poisoned soil. What about soil renewal? How is this being fostered?
- Who legally can get access to a vacant and abandoned parcel? What if someone from another part of the country, someone with scant funds--too little to acquire land in normal farming country--wants to move to Detroit and farm, how possible is this? Is the city searching for non-Detroit farmers?
- The city desperately needs tax revenue. If you or I purchase tax liens on abandoned property and the missing owners fail to pay their back taxes, could we thus easily and with minimum outlay become owners of land that could be farmed?
Farming and the Future of Detroit
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