Can Permaculture Save Detroit?

Detroit Permaculture

Here is some completely heretical news in for the world of eco-capitalist dreamers; no silly white multi-million dollar media men will ever solve the worlds ecological or social problems.  Yeah I know what your thinking blasphemous right?  Specifically, I am referring to the uber opportunistic and freshly greenwashed faces of Al gore, Warren Buffet, Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Richard Rainwater, and now John Hantz.  Hantz, a big time financial investor and longtime Detroit resident is proposing to put 30 million down of his own money to build a high tech farming operation that will be coupled with “green” estates.  In Fortune Magazine’s limited interview Hantz said that Detroit is suffering from a lack of scarcity and that the only way to save housing prices is by taking as much property off the market as possible, hence the massive farm and real estate combo.  But, couple this seemingly benign idea with a one track profit motive and instead of community revitalization one gets rampant community gentrification that pushes out the very people (the poorer residents of Detroit) that one is purporting to be “helping”.  The team Hantz has assembled thus far is glaringly white in a city that is over 80% black which is highly suspicious to say the least not to mention naming the entire operation Hantz Farm doesn’t inspire thoughts of “community”.  Rather than going to the folks who have already spent immense amounts of effort to bring local organic food to their communities and bring jobs in their neighborhoods, and then offer to assist financially in their efforts, thus far Hantz is developing a hierarchal strategy that may put those very folks out of business. Hantz’s preliminary proposals have garnered lots of unwarranted media attention even though very few details have emerged about how this farming project will be managed and who exactly will manage it.

The Hantz Farm site is just a  collection of stock photos that to me seem as hollow as their message.  Okay perhaps I’m being too cynical but right now important questions remain around what exact types of technology the farm will employ (already energy expensive technologies like hydroponics and large scale harvesters have been mentioned) , if there is even a viable market in the region, and most importantly, who will this for profit enterprize benefit the most.  “I’m concerned about the corporate takeover of the urban agriculture movement in Detroit,” says Malik Yakini, a charter school principal and founder of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, which operates D-Town Farm on Detroit’s west side. (from CNN)

Organic farming is enjoying a nice trendy resurgence as a solution to urban, rural, and ecological ills. Unfortunately, farming no mattter how popular can only do so much.  It is well known that various economic events some deliberate and some unexpected have cost the United States and urban manufacturing centers like Detroit obscene amounts of jobs.  What is not well known, is that neither local organic farming, or any green high tech green wizardry, is likely to bring these jobs back in the near future.  But, never fear, there are three simple solutions to this whole mess we’re all in along with Detroit.

ONE: Permaculture

Detroit honestly doesn’t need anymore scarcity (though real estate barons may see it differently) it desperately needs abundance, and permaculture is a complete system that designs for abundance.  If the polluted landscape of Detroit is going to be regenerated then organic farming is just not enough.

TWO: Cooperatives

The entire history of Detroit is one of total abandonment by the world of capital and a complete lack of responsibility or loyalty to the local community.  Cooperatives by their very nature encourage horizontal investment, diversity, democracy, and local responsibility.

THREE: Community Land Trusts

Community Land Trusts are set up in such a way as to encourage low income buyers into positions of ownership and avoid volatility in housing prices.  There are few communities in the the US that have suffered worse volatility in housing prices than Detroit.  What Hantz is proposing is just green veiled gentrification while the real solution for the people of Detroit lies in Community Land Trusts.  Burlington VT has many successful examples of how and why CLT’s can close the gaps of classism.

Note, I did not mention 30 million dollars from some rich white guy!  Now if that 30 million was invested in those 3 things I would surely change my tune, but if it’s invested in anything else, I really wouldn’t get my hopes up.  Currently, Detroit will likely be the venue for the 2010 US social forum and I plan on being there purposing real solutions based on living permaculture and cooperative principals not on selfish, dead, capitalist oriented ones.                                       [tweetmeme]

Organizations doing the real work in Detroit:

Evolve Detroit    http://detroitevolution.com/

Detroit Agriculture Network  http://www.detroitagriculture.org/

Detroit Summer http://www.detroitsummer.org/

Midwest Permaculture  http://www.midwestpermaculture.com/

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6 thoughts on “Can Permaculture Save Detroit?

  1. Where one smells money, the smell of blood is soon to follow. Mr. Hantz is smelling money. I doubt he is concerned with the cost to the population’s lives and prosperity. The Detroit public food markets I have visited are some of the most impressive I have seen. The Hantz project to destroy that, in my opinion. I’m not from Detroit, but I do have some friends there and feel for the people there. Viva La Permacultura!

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  2. To be honest I was confused about the article about Hantz when I read it. It didn’t have any mention of the community, just about how this new business venture could re-invigorate Detroit’s (financial?investment?)economy.

    I’m not from Detroit but my family is and many of them lived there for quite a while. It’s current state is by no means going to be improved by a corporate farm. But I have seen first-hand the improvements Evolution Detroit is making, along with Earthworks Farm and the hundreds of other truly community driven farms and gardens that are there. I attended the Detroit Bioneers in 2008 and it was certain that the community was making the difference, not the corporations.

    The problem with farming and organic agriculture being so hip right now is that hardly anyone knows what it really means. I meet a lot of young people who are really psyched about local food and permaculture but I sense they have no idea of the sacrifice involved in growing food, especially as a subsistence occupation. And that goes for all ages — there seems to be a huge disconnect from getting one’s hands dirty and enjoying the fruits thereof.

    That’s why I think Hantz is likely in for a massive failure that could do a lot more damage than good. Or there is the likelihood that it fails before it even becomes a reality. Either way there is so much good work being done in Detroit, I can only see that strengthening as time goes on.

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  3. you’re spot on with your assessment. developers are always going to turn something like this to their personal advantage and increase their status amongst their own. they only know the rules for ‘top-down constriction’, this is the root of the problem in terms of the potential for a ‘bottom-up rebuild’ and ‘distributed gender’ power sharing. of course i’m borrowing heavily from david holmgren’s ‘future scenarios’ in much of this.

    the land trust model sounds great, and no doubt great opportunities exist for indigenous re-ownership. it wld be great thing to close both the class and the indig gap at the same instant.

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  4. Hello! I’m amazed by all the wonderful projects happening in Detroit. I just came to visit for the USSF, and I had such a wonderful experience that I decided to move. I’m now in the process of looking for places and thinking about land trusts. If you know of anyone working on land trusts please contact me!

    -Marisa

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  5. Has this movement been vetted by the FDA and other gov’t agencies? I just say that because if this urban gardening ever did become a threat to Monsanto or other agricultural giants, they will lobby and win legistlation which is favorable to the conglomerates.

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