Planting New Life in Detroit's Vacated Landscape
"It's a long-term crop, but we're in a position where we can [be patient]," he says. "We're paying cash for the land, taking over the maintenance costs, and then removing the blight, which increases the value of surrounding properties."
Hantz Farms is not focused on creating jobs or food sources, like many nonprofit gardens are. But it is committed to making Detroit more livable and beautiful. That fits with the mission of many small-scale gardeners who initially criticized the Hantz venture, says Score, calling Hantz's business success "evil."
Even friends who knew of his faith told Score he had "sold out." He said they assumed there was "an inherent conflict to say you care about Detroit, are interested in urban agriculture, and work on a large-scale, for-profit business venture."
But Score has been forbearing, letting his results speak for themselves. Now when Score talks to Christians about Hantz Farms, they agree that its forestry and farming efforts have helped better Detroit. Some even talk about it as a sign of God's kingdom.
"They say, 'See, this is how God works,'" Score says. He wants to make sure that people outside the church hear that God cares and God is working in their midst. "That," he says, "is the gap that needs to be bridged."
Still, some Christians remain skeptical. Schumack, for example, calls the Hantz venture a "land grab," and Hebron doubts that a business would be able to stay true to its mission over 60 years. Critics also say that such ventures ignore Detroit's immediate needs, like access to food.
Mount Elliott residents are finding a middle way and addressing a different gap: the differences in method between community gardens and large-scale tree farms. Earthworks Urban Farm is a midsize farm run by the Franciscan Capuchin Soup Kitchen (CSK). It uses large areas of land for food production to both feed the hungry and make more food available in the long-term, says CSK executive director Jerry Smith.
"Earthworks fits in [naturally] with Franciscan spirituality," he adds. "Earthworks is about right relationship with [the] earth and environment and with each other. They're spiritual values."
Earthworks invites people from its soup kitchen to volunteer in the garden, where they participate in the complete farm-to-table cycle. That's how Earthworks evangelizes, Smith says—not through words, but by the way they operate.
But it doesn't hurt that Earthworks helps meet residents' physical needs as well. Earthworks contributes fresh produce to more than 2,000 meals served at CSK's two locations every day. Smith says he doesn't want Earthworks to expand and farm 50 acres. Already Earthworks employees and volunteers farm land that spans two city blocks, some of which the farm owns and some it does not. Smith says that's the right size to meet current demand.
Earthworks thrives partly because of its partnership with CSK, which has the resources to fund many of its projects. In contrast to relatively new start-ups, like Neighbors Building Brightmoor, Earthworks' funders "have seen our track record and that we have credibility, so we have that advantage," Smith says.
But Score avoids talking about "advantages" and "disadvantages" of different urban farming methods. Rather, Score says, Detroit needs to embrace mixed approaches, because single-lot sales will not solve Detroit's larger property-value problem. If the city wanted to sell all of its city-owned lots to individuals, Detroit would need 100,000 buyers. Interest in urban farming has grown in recent years, but not to that extent, he says.