Planting New Life in Detroit's Vacated Landscape
Hebron has been running the Oakland Avenue Community Garden since 2009. She started it with support from Greening of Detroit, a large nonprofit, and her church. St. John's Evangelistic Temple members identified access to food as one pressing issue they could address, so they started the Oakland Avenue garden on three church-owned lots. With a little outside capital, the garden overflowed into seven surrounding lots.
The ministry expanded when U.S. Department of Agriculture funds helped purchase a hoop house that creates a year-round greenhouse environment; they then launched a summer farmers' market. Hebron says they sell almost 4,000 pounds of produce to locals.
"They get to have a relationship with us," she says. "They get to see how the produce they're putting in their body comes out of the ground."
But Brightmoor and Oakland Avenue face different challenges. Whereas Brightmoor is primarily residential, Oakland Avenue used to be its neighborhood's commercial center, which businesses abandoned after the riots of the 1960s and the economic downturn.
Hebron says she hopes her farm's presence will help increase commercial demand and revitalize Oakland Avenue.
"We don't have a Laundromat, a cleaners, a bakery," she says. "[But] we're here. By us being here, we are reaching out to businesses, saying they need to take advantage of the vacancy."
Taking Farms to Scale
Detroit's smaller urban farmers are being joined by agribusiness. Agribusiness isn't welcomed by all, but Mike Score, president of Hantz Farms, has changed many a mind in the last four years.
Unlike community gardens and small-scale farms, Hantz Farms is a for-profit business started in 2008 by John Hantz, founder of Hantz Group. Score, a Detroit native and agricultural scientist, manages day-to-day operations for the forestry-based farm venture. Currently that includes overseeing the growth of 900 saplings in the Indian Village neighborhood, where the city has let Hantz buy land and test the "Hantz Woodlands" model.
"Gardening is good, but it's not enough to fill the gap in this city," Score says. "We need some large-scale farms in the city that would make better use of the natural resources."
Both Hantz and Score believe the abundance of city-owned land is "killing the city." Many of the lots go unmanaged, thus hurting the investment value of neighboring homes and businesses. "If there's a vacant parcel today, nobody will buy it because it will be cheaper tomorrow," Score says. "There's no incentive to build anything in Detroit."
But there is incentive to grow, which is why Hantz plans to purchase swaths of publically owned land, up to 40 acres at a time, and plant saplings. Then Hantz Farms will maintain the land and wait—for 60 years, when the trees are ready to be harvested and will yield a 5 percent annual return on equity, Score says.