Motown Farmville: Detroit Plants Seeds for World's Largest Urban Farm

May 13, 2011
Not a typical view of Detroit, is it? (Illustration: Bryan Christie)

For years, on his half-hour commute to work, John Hantz passed by an all-too-familiar sight for Detroit residents: a desolate landscape of abandoned buildings, vacant lots, and unkempt yards.

The difference is that where others saw hopelessness, Hantz saw opportunity.

Two years ago, on what could have been just another ordinary morning, Hantz had a revelation that would change his life—and potentially the fate of his city. Why not use this land to create the largest urban farm in the world?

Today, he is the CEO of Hantz Farms, an ambitious endeavor to revitalize Detroit by turning unutilized plots of land scattered throughout the city into profitable, community-run farms.

John Hantz (Photo: Greg Ruffing/Redux)

Hantz is no stranger to risk-taking. He quit his stockbroker job almost 15 years ago to start his own financial firm. The risky move paid off; Hantz is now one of the richest men left in Detroit, reports Fortune. He has pledged a $30 million personal investment in the Hantz Farms project.

Hantz Farms’s official website outlines the project’s ambitious goals, which include: generating jobs, providing locally-grown produce to markets and restaurants, building a greener environment, attracting tourism, educating public school students, and attracting real estate investment.

Farming could turn neglected city blocks into productive land again. “Before it became an industrial powerhouse, Detroit was part of a great farming region that fed thousands," according to the project's website.

Owned, operated and staffed by Detroiters, Hantz Farms would be returning the city to its agrarian roots. The project hopes to turn Detroit into “a model of sustainability.”

The farms will also function as a research lab for cutting-edge technologies in sustainable agriculture, dedicated to developing the use of aeroponics and hydroponics to generate clean energy.

Earlier this month, the approval of a $6,500 land purchase by the Detroit City Council marked a milestone for the project. John Hantz hopes to acquire hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of acres throughout the city. Perhaps someday in the future Detroit will look like a green checkerboard from above, with urban farms keeping the city green and booming.

Stay tuned.

Quick Study: Green Living

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