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  1. #1
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    Default MSU proposes urban agriculture project in Detroit

    I say the gatekeepers need to get out of the way and allow this to happen- City Department of Agriculture Development that encourages both large-scale commercial farming as well as smaller neighborhood-based farming communes. Schools in the city can also participate- especially with partnerships with state colleges and universities, they can have dedicated plots of land, where students can work on them for credit, especially during the spring and summer. Detroit schools can emphasize earth-science curriculums, leading to career fields as forestry, agriculture, urban planning, botany, new energy, and more. Age-appropriate green-industry jobs training for high school students, college students and non-student adults can be a long-term boost to the local economy.

    http://tinyurl.com/dxdjdxx

  2. #2
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    This is a major-league initiative, don't blow it!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Hypestyles View Post
    http://tinyurl.com/dxdjdxx

    I say the gatekeepers need to get out of the way and allow this to happen- City Department of Agriculture Development that encourages both large-scale commercial farming as well as smaller neighborhood-based farming communes. Schools in the city can also participate- especially with partnerships with state colleges and universities, they can have dedicated plots of land, where students can work on them for credit, especially during the spring and summer. Detroit schools can emphasize earth-science curriculums, leading to career fields as forestry, agriculture, urban planning, botany, new energy, and more. Age-appropriate green-industry jobs training for high school students, college students and non-student adults can be a long-term boost to the local economy.
    All very good points! This NEEDS to and HAS to happen. No "well we need to see if they have the right idea." Council and who ever else needs to just sit on their thumbs about this one.

  4. #4
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    MSU is one of the top agricultural research institutions in the world. They have over a dozen research centers, but none in this part of the state. This center would bring a lot of benefit to the whole region, and to the city in particular. One of the stories they have on their website right now says that agriculture and food bring $90 Billion to the state economy. Do it!

  5. #5
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    The goal, said Rick Foster, director of MSUís Greening Michigan Institute, is to make Detroit the center of a worldwide research effort devoted to growing food inside cities as a way to get fresh food to urban residents and to put vacant urban land back into productive use


    I love this idea, and Detroit is perfect to be on the cutting edge of this movement. Now if only we can stop getting in our own way.

  6. #6
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    The free press article mentioned vertical agriculture for this project, I hope they would consider using part of the Packard Plant? If it becomes economical viable they would have plently of building space and land area to expand. The redisgned roof could collect rain water, provide solar and wind power while being farmable (if that is a word). They could also use areas of the plant for crops that require little or no sunlight (I believe there is a chinesse vegtible staple that is grown in the dark). A show on PBS had an old structre converted to an agriculture used combined with a fish farm.

  7. #7
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    Am I the only one who finds something odious in all of this new urban planning? Correct me if you I'm wrong, but it seems like the game plan many urban planners in Detroit are trying to push goes like this: convert the poorest neighborhoods into farms, and gentrify the remaining neighborhoods and Downtown/Midtown until poor people get priced out. It sounds a lot like the brilliant urban planning of the 1960s, just instead of converting the blight in the city into concrete structures and roads, this time we're going to make them farms. How will this help fix Metro Detroit's social problems?

    I have other concerns, too. How much money will farming really make for people in Detroit? It's certainly not going to rival the money industry once made in the city, right? And while ant green energy developments sound promising, does Detroit really have enough room within its borders to become a major player?

    Maybe I'm wrong to doubt these things. I'd like to be proven wrong by someone, actually.

  8. #8
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    At a million dollars an acre, they can take this project and shove it.

    This is about one thing, milking the taxpayer.

    I'm sure MSU has fields they can work with all ready.

  9. #9
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    Nain: I know that Detroit's planners and advocates are looking for big, well-grounded ideas to heal and develop Detroit. I'm sure that you and others could advocate for other developments that don't stink so much in your eyes. And perhaps you can find other developers who will invest millions in getting an idea off the ground in Detroit that will pay unskilled, poorly educated and unfocused Detroiters better than the sort of menial, but decent and clean labor that MSU proposes to offer.
    I would be interested to hear alternative ideas for healing Detroit and employing it's labor force.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by nain rouge View Post
    How will this help fix Metro Detroit's social problems?
    Well, it's arguable that many of Detroit's social problems could be helped by people not being unemployed.


    I have other concerns, too. How much money will farming really make for people in Detroit? It's certainly not going to rival the money industry once made in the city, right? And while ant green energy developments sound promising, does Detroit really have enough room within its borders to become a major player?

    Maybe I'm wrong to doubt these things. I'd like to be proven wrong by someone, actually.
    Well, first, vacant land is earning zero money and costing millions in social problems related to blight. So I think any fantasies of turning back the clock to 1950 as far as industry is concerned are probably of a lower priority than the intensive care financial and social issues brought to the table right now.

    Second, Detroit has 144 square miles. There's more than enough room within its borders to become a major player in agriculture. And even though MSU is the rival to my alma mater, they're not a commercial developer looking to making some quick coin. They're a research institution looking to inject a major investment to make Detroit the "silicon valley" of the urban agriculture world.

    Let's get out of our own way. 50% of our population is unemployed. Maybe we should be a little less choosy about which industries should and shouldn't employ our people.
    Last edited by corktownyuppie; April-14-12 at 08:17 PM.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by nain rouge View Post
    Am I the only one who finds something odious in all of this new urban planning? Correct me if you I'm wrong, but it seems like the game plan many urban planners in Detroit are trying to push goes like this: convert the poorest neighborhoods into farms, and gentrify the remaining neighbor
    I don't think this is a realistic concern. agriculture is a relatively low-value use and won't bring in enough money per acre to make it worth removing any viable residential property. But there is a lot of land in Detroit that isn't producing any income at all, and that might be worthwhile to use for some kind of food production.

    I could imagine that if there is ever any serious relocation of people from the prairie areas, those areas might get converted to agriculture, but the relocation would have been done for other reasons, again because it isn't economic to displace residential use or business use for agriculture.


    It sounds a lot like the brilliant urban planning of the 1960s, just instead of converting the blight in the city into concrete structures and roads, this time we're going to make them farms. How will this help fix Metro Detroit's social problems?
    Getting rid of blight is a good thing. It fixes the problem of blight. I'm not sure how much else it accomplishes.

    I have other concerns, too. How much money will farming really make for people in Detroit? It's certainly not going to rival the money industry once made in the city, right? And while ant green energy developments sound promising, does Detroit really have enough room within its borders to become a major player?
    Probably not that much. I think I estimated on a thread a year or two ago that if you converted the entire land area of the city to agriculture, you might be able to employ 20,000-30,000 people directly in agricultural jobs, assuming you used all the land for high-value, labor-intensive truck farming, so in reality you wouldn't get more than a few thousand jobs anytime in the foreseeable future. On the other hand, you have to compare that to the amount of employment produced by empty lots. If you did a lot of vertical agriculture, you might be able to get more jobs.

    You aren't going to produce a lot of green energy in Detroit--there isn't that much wind, and it is one of the least-sunny locations in the US. Of course there is no reason you couldn't produce green energy equipment in Detroit, if you could attract appropriate investment.

  12. #12
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    The spin offs from research are amazing. What would Ann Arbor be if U of M was not a research university? How about Cass Corridor without WSU? Pretty grim. Should you want this, make sure your elected leaders know. Otherwise it could end up another plan on a shelf collecting dust.

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    Let's get out of our own way. 50% of our population is unemployed. Maybe we should be a little less choosy about which industries should and shouldn't employ our people.

    Well yeah, unemployment is so high because the rest of Metro Detroit basically fenced all the poor people into Detroit and took all the jobs out of the city (look at the skyscrapers/high rises along I-75 N and I-696 W and all the auto factories in the suburbs
    - some of which are now closed, too - and you'll quickly see what killed Detroit in the '70s, '80s, and '90s). While the fences are starting to break down a little bit, it's being done haphazardly and in a way that I don't necessarily see as productive for our region's future. I'm seeing a much smaller Metro Detroit 50 years from now.

    Yeah, "urban" farms are better than nothing, but that's probably the only strong argument you can make for it. There are hundreds of investments that I could think of that would be better, but people don't want to invest the money because of America's economic problems and Metro Detroit's ridiculously bad social issues. I mean, look at what we did to what was once a top 5 city in America.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by nain rouge View Post

    Yeah, "urban" farms are better than nothing, but that's probably the only strong argument you can make for it. There are hundreds of investments that I could think of that would be better, but people don't want to invest the money because of America's economic problems and Metro Detroit's ridiculously bad social issues. I mean, look at what we did to what was once a top 5 city in America.
    I'm sure there are many investments that would be better. I guess the question is what politically viable solutions exist to bring them here? And does urban farming somehow preclude other investments from taking place?

    Frankly, I don't think what killed Detroit in the 70s, 80s, and 90s is all that important. The clock isn't turning backwards. Hearing people talk about how Detroit was a Top 5 City at one point is like hearing the South talking about wanting the Confederacy to rise again.

    It points to an unresolved anger, and maybe even a points out many injustices that were never acknowledged. But how is looking at those things going to make us a Top 5 City again?

    The "power center" of America has moved around the country as economies have changed over the last 200-300 years. New Orleans was once the wealthiest city in the US because of its access to the Mississippi River. When cotton was king, Atlanta was where it was at. Detroit was once the Paris of the Midwest. Silicon Valley wasn't put on the map until computers. Cities rise and fall, rise and fall, rise and fall with their economies.

    We're never going back to 1930-1970 Detroit. Just like New Orleans will never go back to when the French Quarter was the Manhattan of the 1850s.

    Urban farms are better than nothing. What we have right now is nothing. So, I say take the ball and run with it.

  15. #15
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    You people make me laugh when you talk about farming creating jobs for Metro Detroiters!

    What are you smoking?

    The rest of the farm industry in the entire country can't get cheap enough labor to turn a profit without bringing in Mexican slave labor.

    You think Detroiters are going to work long, hard hours for low wages?

    Pass the pipe.

  16. #16
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    Urban farms are better than nothing. What we have right now is nothing. So, I say take the ball and run with it.

    We have more than nothing. We have a metro region that has squandered its wealth, resources, sense of cooperation through extreme decentralization. In Metro Detroit, it's a bragging point to steal an auto factory from another city through tax breaks.

    Here's a suggestion: why don't we put some of those resources back into Detroit, which is our urban core and brand name, before there is nothing left to pick from the carcass of our previous glory? Oh yeah, that's right, we won't because of the ridiculous prejudices that still exist on both side of 8 mile.

    Detroit should've been more like Chicago and Philadelphia - cities that have seen better days, but are still in much better shape. But we messed up bad.

    Edit: I know that we have put some resources back into Detroit, but the fact remains that the majority of Metro Detroiters still look at Detroit as problem they wish would just sink into the Detroit River. It's continually kept us from reaching critical mass, and it's why the previous renaissance efforts ultimately failed (such as the renaissance plans in the 1970s that culminated with the Renaissance Center).
    Last edited by nain rouge; April-14-12 at 10:42 PM.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wheels View Post
    You people make me laugh when you talk about farming creating jobs for Metro Detroiters!

    What are you smoking?

    The rest of the farm industry in the entire country can't get cheap enough labor to turn a profit without bringing in Mexican slave labor.

    You think Detroiters are going to work long, hard hours for low wages?

    Pass the pipe.
    Maybe we're not all on the same page here. This is a research project. It doesn't need to be profitable. It's probably not going to be profitable. That's why it's research. That means they're going to be an incubator of ideas, knowing that 99 out of a 100 will go nowhere but that the 1 could change the world.

    Are people imagining some kind of pre-civil war era plantation?

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by nain rouge View Post

    Here's a suggestion: why don't we put some of those resources back into Detroit, which is our urban core and brand name, before there is nothing left to pick from the carcass of our previous glory?

    Well, isn't that what MSU is trying to do here? I would love for Automation Alley and all the professional buildings in Troy and half of Southfield to move back into the city...but that's not going to happen, nor will it make the Trojans or Southfieldians really happy.

    So finally, an investor with practically limitless access to capital finds a unique need and a potential future industry....is willing to commit funds...

    I guess I was expecting champagne and fireworks. What I'm hearing is more of, "Well, I guess if that's what we can get, we'll take it."

  19. #19
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    So finally, an investor with practically limitless access to capital finds a unique need and a potential future industry....is willing to commit funds...


    Part of my worry is that it's a way for all the urban farmers to get their foot in the door in a big way. It starts with MSU's 100 acres, which will develop a sense of normalcy around the idea of giant farms inside of Detroit. It can snowball from there, and I'm not so sure that's a good thing.

    Here's my problem with it: what makes Detroit, which was historically a dumping ground for industrial contaminants, especially well-suited for farming? I just don't see what competitive advantage Detroit offers over traditional rural areas. It will be cramped in comparison to a normal rural area and it will be based in a market that for various reasons has been unable to support the amount of grocery stores/fresh produce stores you'd expect for its population level.

    Sure, MSU can afford to stay long-term in weak markets like that, but what about private entities?

    All in all, urban farming just sounds philosophically like an easy way out to me. Rather than hold ourselves accountable for Detroit's downfall and do some real soul searching, we instead want to revert large chunks of Detroit into some kind of weird subsistence agriculture experiment. Sure, it'll bring food sources closer to Detroit, but it will also put larger spaces between the residential and commercial areas of Detroit and the rest of Metro Detroit.

    People thought all of that urban planning in the '60s was great at the time, too. Now, most urban planners consider it an unmitigated disaster. Looks like history is about to repeat itself if they have their way.
    Last edited by nain rouge; April-15-12 at 12:29 AM.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by nain rouge View Post


    Part of my worry is that it's a way for all the urban farmers to get their foot in the door in a big way. It starts with MSU's 100 acres, which will develop a sense of normalcy around the idea of giant farms inside of Detroit. It can snowball from there, and I'm not so sure that's a good thing.


    Let my preface the rest of my position with a statement that I hate urban sprawl. I hate it. I am opposed to it. And, frankly, I think it's a major public policy error. I also believe in free markets, but -- in my opinion -- most public sprawl requires public investment to subsidize it. Unfortunately the public electorate makes the same mistakes with public spending on infrastructure that it does with employee benefits, pension, and healthcare.

    It doesn't make sense for us to triple our geographical and infrastructural footprint while keeping the population constant.

    If you're a free market believer and state that people should be able to live where they want, I agree with you. Let's change one thing. Every 10 years, a region-wide governmental body decides what transit, roads, and infrastructure will be funded. Then let the builders and buyers do what they wish. Instead, we've people moving outward every 10 years for cheaper land with bigger houses. Which is fine, except they leave behind a city equipped to pay on those 30-year bonds or 30-year pensions they were supposed to be paying back. And then they demand that a newly formed municipal body borrow more money to build more roads when they get there.

    It's ridiculous.

    Unfortunately, we are not going to be able to reverse the urban sprawl that has taken place over the last 50 years, all we can do is stop it or slow it down.
    All in all, urban farming just sounds philosophically like an easy way out to me. Rather than hold ourselves accountable for Detroit's downfall and do some real soul searching, we instead want to revert large chunks of Detroit into some kind of weird subsistence agriculture experiment. Sure, it'll bring food sources closer to Detroit, but it will also put larger spaces between the residential and commercial areas of Detroit and the rest of Metro Detroit.
    Detroit is not going to go back to what it was in 1970 anytime soon. The only real sustainable vision for the city
    in the near future is to concentrate its population into dense, viable areas. 700,000 people people can not pay for the expenses of a city designed for 2 million. It's like asking 3 people to pay for the expenses of a 9-bedroom apartment.

    And out of those 3, 1 of them is below the poverty line.

    Knowing that we're not going to "re-fill" these gaps in population density, we have to choose what we want in those gaps. Right now, we are choosing blight. MSU is offering to turn that blight in positive revenue production. At minimum, you get rid of blocks of crack houses.

    I'm sure many are open to other proposals, as am I. But if your vision is that L Brooks Patterson all of a sudden acknowledges the short-sightedness of his ways, dis-invests in Southfield and Troy, and then encourages businesses to go back into the city...then fine. How long are we willing to wait for that to happen, and what will do in the meantime?

    Here's my problem with it: what makes Detroit, which was historically a dumping ground for industrial contaminants, especially well-suited for farming? I just don't see what competitive advantage Detroit offers over traditional rural areas. It will be cramped in comparison to a normal rural area and it will be based in a market that for various reasons has been unable to support the amount of grocery stores/fresh produce stores you'd expect for its population level.

    Sure, MSU can afford to stay long-term in weak markets like that, but what about private entities?


    Well, first thing is that we have the transportation infrastructure advantages as well as access to fresh water. I'm not a farmer, so I don't understand the business at all. I do know that most urban areas formed because of their access to water and ports. We have an advantage in shipping, as do probably most urban areas.

    Second, the whole point of research is to find new technologies and competitive advantages that did not previously exist. It's obvious that Detroit (or any urban area) can't compete with rural areas for farming based on what we know right now. If they did, then there would already be farming all over the city.

    Look at Ann Arbor. So much of the research spills out into the community because new findings generate new opportunities which generate new findings which generate new opportunities.

    Your points about soul searching are not bad ones. I do agree that the current model of continual expansion is not viable. But proving that point and changing that mindset is a long-term vision...and then what will it produce? "You're right, we shouldn't have expanded this way." Ok, so now what?

    Any way to attract long-term capital -- especially from higher education...whose research budgets and missions are considerably less cyclical than the private sector -- should be welcomed.

    Last edited by corktownyuppie; April-15-12 at 06:55 AM.

  21. #21
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    I was looking at the area just west of Crockett HS on google.
    That's a 100 acres with land left over and not one resident would have to be relocated.

    I believe that land is some sort of empowerment zone?

  22. #22
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    nain rogue--I see your points but some of your points are what the researchers want to figure out. That's the point of research and what corcktownyuppie is trying to point out. Let MSU figure out if urban farming is viable not some private entity that could come in and crash hard if it doesn't work out. Get the point? Ha!

  23. #23
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    Lots of good thoughts on this thread. Given our standard lot @.33 acres there is roughly 5 acres with more to come on my block alone that could be used at least temporarily as urban farms. Don't need o move out as the country came to us. When the vacant house across the street gets removed (slated for demo 2 yrs ago April) I'll celebrate with a porch swing. Maybe get a few chickens just for fun.

    As an advance master gardener, I know a bit about gardening. Nothing much about farming for profit sadly.

    Here is one idea I will share with folk who want to urban farm. Buy gladiola bulbs bulk wholesale. One can plant in soil as soon as the ground is workable. On a weekly basis plant more to insure an extended harvesting season. A viable saleable crop can be had from late may to October using this method.The bulbs after blooming can be harvested for a cost free crop the following year.

  24. #24
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    Some day we might need to grow our own food not for money but to eat.
    After the OIL war there will be a FOOD war. Large populations will come
    to the area for the water. I feel like Edgar Cayce

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    With Whole Foods moving in, Detroit could grow organic salad greens to be sold by Whole Foods to start with. Maybe Whole Foods could subsidize some of the costs.

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