Broccoli? Trees? Who cares!

Urban agriculture mavens have been watching the travails of Hantz Farms, an attempt by a well-off Detroiter to create a massive experiment in urban agriculture with bated broccoli breath. When the plans first emerged that the City Council was going to sell 175 acres to some rich white dude for $600,000 for what was dubbed the world’s largest experiment in urban agriculture, local activists screamed “land grab.” That’s about $300 a parcel, folks (although to put it in perspective, market price is only about $3,000.) Three years later, the rich white dude is about to close the deal, and will use the land for. . . a tree farm.

Tree farm? I’m no expert, but from what I know of the life cycle of Michigan hardwood, that sounds less like the treehuggy strategy to bring brussel sprouts to the masses, and more like the real estate strategy of “buy and hold.”

Granted, for Hantz it was never just about the vegetables: he wanted to take the land out of circulation to “create scarcity.” The tree farm does that. He says he still wants to pursue agriculture, although he’ll have to contend with a number of legal hurdles, including a state law that makes it difficult for Michigan cities to pass local ordinances protecting neighbors from the nuisances of urban agriculture. (Michigan in the early 80s passed a Right to Farm law designed to protect farmers from nuisance lawsuits by people who had the poor sense of buying a dream house next to an abundant supply of manure; the law makes it difficult for cities to regulate agriculture.)

In the end, I’m sure there’s a mixture of high-mindedness and profit-mindedness about the endeavor. (Treehugger made the same observation a couple years back.) And I have to say there’s something halfway between creepy and beautiful of the thought of a little corner of Detroit turning back into forest.


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