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Media questions

By Shea Howell
Special to the Michigan Citizen

Hantz Farms has launched a media blitz. They are pressuring the city into quick action on its land grab. The City Council should stand firmly against this push. There is no reason to act before the Detroit Food Policy Council and the City Planning Commission complete their work on agricultural policies for the city.

This past week the Wall Street Journal and Huffington Post joined local media — including Crains, Fox News, the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News — in presenting the Hantz Farm plan as a good idea. Radio outlets have reported on the deal and offered favorable commentary. Those who objected are being depicted as “pitchfork waving,” anti-corporate, anti-white, anti-development naysayers.

None of these media have probed the serious questions involved in this deal. Here are some that come to mind.

First, what is the rush? Since the current plan is to grow hardwood trees that mature for profit in 60 years, why the push for a decision now? Why should Hantz be exempt from the public processes that draw on the experience and wisdom of current urban gardens, City Planning and more than two years of work in negotiation with state and local authorities?

Second, why should Hantz be given preferential treatment to buy land? Why shouldn’t this land be made available to current residents and urban farmers?

Third, what are the ecological and social implications of selling over 200 acres of land to one individual for large-scale industrial level agriculture? How will this affect the local, small-scale growers? The ecosystems?

Fourth, why should the city agree to sell land far below its current estimated value? Buried in the Wall Street Journal article was this sentence: “Hantz is offering $300 a parcel, one-tenth of what city officials wanted.”

Fifth, why is Hantz reluctant to sign a development agreement with the city, indicating how they would use the land after five years?

Sixth, what is the role of the Kresge Foundation in all of this? They are frequently referred to as a partner. What does this mean? What other foundations are involved? How?

Seventh, why has Hantz’s commitment to Detroit not included moving any of his Southfield business operations into the city?

Eighth, Hantz is quoted in business outlets saying Detroit “cannot create value until we create scarcity.” He claims, “Large-scale farming could begin to take land out of circulation in a positive way.” What does this mean? Positive for whom? How does this relate to the mayor-Foundation initiative to shrink the city?

Ninth, what are the long-term implications of the “tax credits and state assistance” that Hantz is expecting to receive?

Tenth, is Hantz willing to work with the community to develop a community reinvestment agreement, establishing principles and practices that will benefit the surrounding community in exchange for assuming public resources?

The city deserves a full, fair and open public discussion of this project and its implications. Until that happens, neither the mayor nor the Council should be bullied into actions we will all come to regret.

Hantz would like us to believe that this is an altruistic venture to help Detroit deal with “blight,” turning it into “beauty.” But he admits in the Wall Street Journal that “their self-funded venture would create few new jobs in the short term, and only modest revenue for Detroit.”

He would like us to believe he is risking $30 million of his own dollars into Detroit, but the actual figure for this deal is only $600,000. He would like us to think that he is associated with MSU and responsible for bringing in a possible research center on urban agriculture. That connection is laughable. MSU Urban Agriculture has been in Detroit for decades. They are largely responsible for many of our master gardeners and hardly need Hantz Farms to become a viable urban agricultural partner.

This deal has too many unasked and unanswered questions.

Contact Shea Howell at howell@oakland.edu

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