$2 Million Urban Farming Proposal for Detroit

Local Detroit resident, John Hanz, has prosed $2 million dollar urban farming initiative in Detroit. Hanz claims his project is to “reinvigorate Detroit’s blight filled neighborhoods and stimulate its economy”. Watch his advertisement for the Hanz Farms project.

People are humming about the benefits of community gardens, such as green spaces, community-building, and fresh produce. But reading up on the potential pros and cons of Hanz Farms, do you think Hanz’s goal aligns with community gardens or to buy up large amounts of cheap land? Hanz is a former American Express stockbroker, with a net worth of  over 100 million dollars. His project’s officials acknowledge their self-funded venture would create minimal short term jobs and only modest revenue for Detroit. 

Even Rick Foster, professor in the College of Agriculture at Michigan State University, said that Hanz “was a little naive about what farming really was and what it could be.” Should it be a red flag that some of the most influential advocates of Detroit’s urban farming scene are not in support of Hanz’s project? Are the benefits of this project really about the farm itself, or it’s effort to alleviate Detroit of the economic burden and liability of vacant land. 

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8 Responses to “$2 Million Urban Farming Proposal for Detroit”

  1. From reading this article, I think that Hanz’s goals align with both community gardens and with buying up large amounts of cheap lands. Thus, the benefits of this project are both about the farm and the effort to alleviate Detroit from economic burden and the liability of vacant land. Community gardens are a minor catalyst for large-scale environmental change. Moreover, these gardens are created to inspire collective community, self-reliance, and responsibility–qualities that some areas of Detroit really need at this point in time. The article definitely affirms that the project would be expensive, but it also says that leaving the vacant land “generate[s] no significant tax revenue and would cost more to maintain than the city can afford.” I think this project is well-intended financially and for the fostering of social change in Detroit.

    I think that Foster was saying that Hanz does not have agricultural expertise, but I do not think that Foster’s statement is completely discrediting the project. After Foster’s suggestions, Hanz employed a more technocratic approach to the project by beginning work with Mike Score and shifting the focus to timber production. After the shift to timber (a more expensive and financially beneficial crop than food crops), there has been more support for the project.

    Yes, you’re right that Hanz comes from a business background. But sometimes it takes a visionary entrepreneur to create revolutionary ideas. Most businesses use the expertise of several individuals to attain a project goal but that does not decrease the value of the original idea.

    Just something to consider: I think it’s really important for environmental reporters to refrain from confronting an issue like this in a “black and white” way. Not all business executives are the bad guys, and not all activists are the heroes.

  2. Hantz Farm has been a very controversial issue in Detroit. While I don’t want to comment on if I do or do not support Hantz Farm, I would like to address the way that the Hantz Farm conveys their message and how the article writes about the issue.

    In the Hantz Farm video, Score simplifies the issue of blight and uses emotional appeal by mentioning children and mothers. I saw him do this as he spoke to a group of PITE students. Creating a likable image, wearing overalls and a friendly approach, Score used lots of rhetoric to sell the idea of Hantz Farm. One thing is important to notice- how Score and Hantz build credibility by discussing their connection to Detroit. This is very vital in a city where community members are skeptical of the motives of “outsiders.” Also, why doesn’t the video every show the face of the mother who is talking about Hantz Farm?

    I thought that the article very completely conveyed the opinions of both, Hantz Farm and many community members. I think Hantz Farm is about alleviating vacant land, and urban agriculture is seen as part of the solution. However, the article points out that there are many reasons to be suspicious of Hantz Farms – such as his unwillingness to pay top-dollar for land and create jobs for local employees. While Hantz Farm counts as urban agriculture, other urban agriculture projects in the community are more committed to working with the community. They do not need catch words and advertisements to emphasize this.

  3. I agree with Emily that the article did a great job of conveying the opinions of both Hantz Farm and the community members, as well as all the different aspects of urban farming, its purpose, economic viability, and consequences for Detroit. I believe the criticisms of Hantz are legitimate, and the article appropriately “shows without telling” with the scene:
    “In April 2010, he told a gathering at a local university that after talking to urban-agriculture experts on a car tour through Detroit, he felt he could deliver progress much faster working as an individual than waiting for a broader community-backed effort.
    “Get out of your car, John,” an audience member shot back.”
    This article got me thinking: would it be written differently if it was not for the Detroit Free Press, but for broader publication, such as the New York Times? How would the article be changed if the intended audience was not necessarily a Detroiter?

  4. some of the first words spoken in the video were “business enterprise” and from there on out it definitely seemed more focused on the economic side of things. But I had trouble while watching the video trying to figure out what exactly the Hantz Farm people get out of this? How can plots of land bring in revenue for this company?
    Structurally, the video would have worked better if he started off with just the idea and the impact it could have because I think that’s more what people relate to. He presented it more as a business venture and the positives for the community were a second thought.
    The video talks briefly about “farming” but only gives the example of green spaces and planting trees. I’d be interested to know what kind of farms, how they would be managed and where the food would go?

    Overall both the article and video highlight the need for this type of project in Detroit. The article gives more of a varied perspective as far as the view outside of the company whereas the video acts much more like an advertisement.

  5. I think that urban farming in Detroit should not simply be used to make money and use up vacant land. While it is one productive thing that can be done with the land, the emphasis should be on bringing Detroit back together and reducing sprawl. This will happen as a result of a heightened sense of community within the city, a byproduct of many of the urban farming initiatives that are already proving to be successful. Hantz farm is a business venture. Score’s emotional appeals and oversimplification are attempts to make it about something more, which just makes me skeptical about the whole operation in general.

  6. I am a big fan of how this article is laid out in terms of detailing what the issue is and who is taking what side. I would like to see the video actually be linked in the second paragraph. I find myself to be much more likely to look or read about something when there is a link in a related article. I’m sure most of us have experienced the wonders of being lost in Wikipedia, ending at some random article several clicks later and wondering how you got there. Call it lazy, but I’m much more likely to click the blue hyperlink than copy and paste something into google to find out more information unless I really care about the issue. I also really like the quip from an audience member “Get out of your car, John”. I think this was a great way to show the mistrust community members have about the disconnect from a former stockbroker and the city. Much better than just finding someone that says “I don’t like this”.

  7. This article is written in an interesting, fairly unconventional way, I think. It almost seems like the journalist doesn’t know how to present Hantz. And it’s almost a good thing. I like it. It lets the reader decide for him or herself. See, first the article presents Hantz as a sort of sleazy investor whom other urban farmers are skeptical of and who has a limited understanding of farming in general. Then he becomes the outsider trying to fix Detroit in a risky-sort of way. I thought the quote, “Get out of your car, John,” was powerful in displaying this sentiment. But at the end of the day, he is trying to revitalize a somewhat-fallen city. My point, I guess, is that Dolan does a good job of presenting John from all of these different perspectives. Like Katie said, he shows without telling or taking sides. He just sort of probes the atmosphere. It works. I’m interested, but don’t have an opinion based on this article. I guess that is a good thing as far as journalism goes? It is balanced. Just as a side note, it’s hard to know if the article was well done or not without having prior information regarding the issue addressed. I guess that’s why journalists have so much responsibility.

  8. I did not like the video, what was up with the ominous music? It certainly didn’t make me want to trust John, but for now I cannot think of a reason that buying up plots of land in Detroit would be a bad thing. Even if it does turn out to be a business venture, Detroit needs people investing in it right now. The article was good and like Lindsey says it “probes the atmosphere” around the topic. I think that the new mayor will really have to make it clear to businesses what he wants for the city in order to revitalize it. Businesses and entrepreneurs cannot be coming in just to buy up lands just to turn them into capitalist ventures later, when Detroit comes back. Detroit needs green spaces, where good things happen and food and jobs are provided for the community; like the woman in the article stated.

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