Detroit – From Cars to Carrots?

Is it true? Is Detroit going to be on the forefront of a new, more-eco friendly industry in the new millennium? Is it going to go from building cars to growing carrots (and other crops)?

What an exciting thought!

growing up in detroit
Me in my First Commion garb on the porch of my childhood home in Detroit, circa 1976.

I grew up in Detroit and moved away to San Diego with my parents when I graduated from high school. I’ve seen the city go from a bustling industrial city where my father got his first job in America as a line worker and my mother styled the hair of elderly Polish ladies in her own salon in Hamtramck, to a city that quite literally has decayed and collapsed.

If you GoogleMap “13171 Moenart, Detroit” (my childhood home) you’ll see a neighborhood on the satellite image that looks gappy and strange. Clusters of homes are surrounded with expanses of green, indicating that half the homes have been burned to the ground and demolished. The other half are abandoned or occupied by people who can’t or don’t want to sell their home.

My aunt is one of those people. She lives in an area so devastated by the economy that people are literally giving away free rent in the hopes they can write something off on their taxes, since the homes they own are worthless. She doesn’t own anything of value for fear of being robbed (which she has been, many times) and doesn’t lock her door when she leaves the house. Instead, she leaves her vicious German Shepherd in full view behind a glass “security” door to ward away burglars and vandals.

I wondered what would become of this city, knowing that the American automobile industry probably won’t be making a comeback anytime soon, if ever. Today I read an article in the LA Times online that got my spirits up. Detroit may be on its way to becoming the next urban agriculture mecca!

Hantz Farms wants to invest in Detroit’s abandoned land to build farms and gardens that could feed the locals and even better—offer employment opportunities to those out of work.

This isn’t just what Detroit needs, it’s exactly what the national economy needs. We need new jobs that represent industry with low commodity potential, which according to Herman Daly (“Ecological Economics”) is one way of attaining a steady-state, sustainable economy. We invest in the service sector, instead of looking for yet another mass-produced “product” to help solve our environmental, energy and social problems.

In the case of wide-scale urban agriculture, we can hit many birds with one stone. Abandoned land can be used for the common good—by providing jobs, by feeding the local community with locally-grown (hopefully organic and inexpensive) foods, and by raising the value of the surrounding properties. Who wouldn’t want to live across the street from a community garden or farm? It sure beats living across from an empty lot that’s used as a trash receptacle, at best.

I applaud Hantz Farms for their vision, and wait with cautious optimism to see my hometown transformed into the kind of city I always knew it could be, given the right amount of ingenuity and hope.

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