Stop trying to make ‘fetch’ happen

Laura Berman updates us on the ongoing travails of John Hantz, the millionaire whose quest to develop a large-scale farm in Detroit have been, to date, quixotic:

Hantz’s larger plans have been waylaid by two major factors: the Michigan Right to Farm Law and uncertainty surrounding Mayor Dave Bing’s Detroit Works Project to shore up stable neighborhoods and offer incentives to relocate.

The farm law enables farmers to choose and raise their crops — a provision that empowers farmers in rural areas by allowing them to choose their own crops and types of agriculture. In the city, though, it could conceivably allow “farmers” to keep livestock.

The city is trying to find ways to modify the law so Detroit can regulate urban farms. In the meantime, Hantz is waiting.

A Wayne State law professor furnishes the rationale for amending Michigan’s Right to Farm Act:

In 2000, however, Michigan… banned city zoning of commercial farms, regardless of where they are located… The idea remained to protect those old family farms in areas where outlying suburbs had effectively become new cities, but the amended act has far broader consequences, because it can apply to all urban areas…

The act protects farmers by banning these suits, if their farms comply with Michigan Commission of Agriculture standards, known as Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices, (GAAMPs)… Cities may request a modification of GAAMP standards, but granting it is solely within the commission’s discretion. It may only grant exceptions for adverse effects on the environment or public health, but not for odor, noise, appearances, reduced property values and land use conflicts.

Proponents argue improbably that the commission can prepare an “urban GAAMP” to address city concerns. This begs the question of whose interests will prevail when farming operations move to the city and conflict with city residents. In a rural setting, the act appropriately prefers farmers. In urban areas, it is unlikely that the pro-farming commission will protect city residents first.

On the opposite side, we have the Michigan Farm Bureau, which has a much simpler argument and a predictably rosy view of the status quo :

The Right to Farm Act allows local governments to enact additional ordinances, subject to review by the Michigan Commission of Agriculture. We urge Detroit to work through this established process.

Who do you find more trustworthy, the Big Agriculture lobbyist or the legal expert?  Guess which one Michigan’s lawmakers are going to listen to?  Classic example of how, as Jim Russell observes, ‘Cities are often at odds with their host states.’

Fortunately, I don’t much care about who prevails at this point.  I am so over the whole urban farming thing, not so much because it doesn’t have some potential but because it is so far from any kind of viable economic realization.  I know the media likes it and the hippie-environmentalist types like it, but let’s move on, people.  Stop trying to make ‘fetch’ happen. Update: I have been called out for painting with a bit too broad a brush here — see the comments section.

In other news, according to the Free Press, Mayor Bing is billing ‘cheap land’ as one of the city’s selling points.  A whole bunch of palms better be hitting the collective foreheads over that one.  At least, I like to think all the brainpower at DEGC, the Convention & Visitors’ Bureau, the Regional Chamber, and Business Leaders for Michigan can come up with something better than that.


5 responses to “Stop trying to make ‘fetch’ happen

  1. I’ll tell everyone here to stop! We didn’t realize someone from Ann Arbor is “over” the urban farming thing.

    Here’s a hint: it’s bigger than John Hantz.

  2. ha! Feel free to keep it up… I’m not inherently opposed to it, despite being a nosy meddling Ann Arborite and all. I just haven’t seen many signs for optimism yet about A) reform of Right to Farm or B) Detroit farming employing any significant number of people.

    That said, I’d welcome evidence to the contrary — in fact I would love to be proven wrong.


    read the philadelphia report, it was basically the detroit of Detroit’s heyday, as the industrial center of the eastern seaboard.

    1) individuals participating in UA often supplement other, gov’t derived sources of income
    2) a strong UA scene in detroit can feed into and be a part of a profitable local-food-services sector (vertical integration)
    3) there are many ancillary community benefits of UA; social and economic
    4) obviously there are many issues of fresh-food access that UA can begin to address

    your style of thinking is outdated – there’s nothing on the horizon that’s going to put 25 percent of this city back to work. UA is a viable, sensible economic development strategy, and deserves to be taken seriously by people who study cities. It doesn’t represent the same number of jobs as a Chrysler plant, yes, but that’s no reason to dismiss it out of hand.

    you say “let’s move on.” move on to what, exactly??

    • RE: moving on — that is mostly directed toward Hantz & Co. and the media that is letting them suck up all the oxygen — see, for example:

      Mayor Bing: “As we look to diversify our economy, commercial farming has some real potential for job growth and rebuilding our tax base.”
      Quote:’ “It’s really a big job creation engine,” Wozniak said. “We’re looking to rebuild these neighborhoods.”‘

      …which is different, to my understanding, to the more modest and reasonable-sounding goals of improved food security/food access and income supplementation you described.

      Community gardening could be undertaken without reform of Right to Farm, but could large scale commercial agriculture a la Hantz or Recovery Park?

      Regardless, I don’t want to get in a pissing match over people growing part of their food supply locally, and I’ve amended the post to reflect that.

      Nor do I disagree with you about the idea of one industry putting 25 percent of the city back to work. I’d be just as leery of that coming from a Chrysler plant as from farmers. The last thing Detroit needs is high concentration of employment in a single industry… its history already proved that isn’t sustainable.

  4. Pingback: “Huh? What plan?”: Detroit & HUD’s “Strong Cities, Strong Communities” initiative | Motown To Tree Town

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