Can Urban Farming Work In Detroit?

There’s been significant discussion surrounding Detroit’s vacant land. Some estimates suggest the city has 40 square miles of vacant land — meaning the geographic landscapes of San Francisco, Manhattan and Boston would all fit in nicely.

The ongoing challenge is to determine what Detroit should do with the swaths of empty land mass pocketing the city.

Ideas such as urban farming and its impact on creating green space continues to be a hot topic. Providing healthy food sources in an urban environment is critical and could have a longer-term positive impact on developing good eating habits and job creation. As Detroit continues to rebound, a vital part of its resurgence and job creation could well be in food — yes, food. Understanding the entire food chain — from producing , distributing and ultimately, commercializing for consumer use — creates jobs.

A 2014 study by the Detroit Food & Fitness Collaborative (DFFC) says “… the city’s food system including supply from local farms and market gardens, processing, distribution and market demand currently produces $3.6 billion in revenue and directly employs more than 36,000 people.”

Additionally, locally produced food has the added benefit of providing incremental jobs by growing packing and distributing foods to various outlets across the city and region. Another benefit is providing healthy foods to families seeking to improve eating habits. Long-term, this would potentially improve health outcomes for individuals because access to fresh products would increase.

There’s a trend toward healthy eating and away from processed, chemically induced foods. That trend lends itself to healthier food consumptions and ultimately, better health.

Longer-term, growing the local food industry through urban agriculture and farming will have a positive impact on improving eating habits and health indicators for families and kids. This, potentially, may result in less doctor visits and improve metrics in the areas of blood pressure, cholesterol and other related health areas.

According to the DFFC study, a 30 percent increase in the local food production ecosystem would make it the second-largest source of jobs in Detroit behind only the government sector — and imagine the opportunities for entrepreneurs and suppliers as well.

Where to start?

With a business case focused primarily on enhancing education, awareness and the positive impact this will have on the local economy and job creation. This plan should address:

  • Impact urban farming programs will have on economic development and job creation in Detroit.
  • Growing and consuming organic foods and the resulting health benefits, including potentially lower heath care costs for families and companies funding employee sponsored insurance programs.
  • Training programs focused on developing skill sets required to be successful.
  • Funding. In other words, how to make money given a new industry and understanding what funding options (traditional and nontraditional) are available.

If planned, developed and implemented correctly, an ecosystem can be built that supplies food to various outlets across Detroit — from grocery stores to “big box” outlets and convenience stores.

While this doesn’t solve all of Detroit’s issues, it does address three key areas: creating jobs, repurposing land by growing and providing fresh, healthy food options while continuing to diversify Detroit’s economy.

What do you think?