The collapse of the auto industry has done a number on Detroit. Laid-off workers seem to continuously multiply. Abandoned houses line many city blocks. But with the destruction of one industry comes the opportunity for another one to grow in its ashes: farming.
Michigan entrepreneur John Hantz invested $30 million in his Hantz Farms project, which takes aim at 5,000 acres of Detroit land for farming everything from organic lettuce to crops for biofuels. There’s still a long way to go–Hantz will start working 30 acres next spring, and it is proving difficult to buy big parcels of land for a continuous farm. Instead, Hantz is buying smaller, unconnected parcels that will each grow different crops depending on the soil and surrounding environment.
Of course, turning Detroit into an agricultural haven is far from easy. The city’s soil is rife with pollutants, and city zoning laws and property taxes will have to be adjusted if commercial farming is to actually take off. But consider this: Detroit Mayor Dave Bing claims that almost half of all city residents are unemployed or underemployed, despite attempts by auto companies to revive the area by manufacturing new hybrid cars in old factories. One day, those attempts might bring in some substantial jobs, but auto start-ups like Tesla, Aptera, and V-Vehicle (to name a few) are slowly moving auto employment opportunities to the West Coast. So at the very least, Detroit would be wise to use its ultra-cheap land to create a backup industry, albeit one that may not look particularly traditional. And who knows? Those organic tomatoes at the grocery store could eventually come from a factory-side farm in Detroit.