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So What's Wrong With Urban Farming Anyway?

In addition to opposing land management strategies that would "displace" Detroit residents by clearing out abandoned homes, Jesse Jackson is also now coming out strong against the idea of large-scale farming in the city limits.

"Detroit needs investment in industry, housing and construction -- not bean patches," Jackson told host Paul W. Smith on WJR-AM 760.  "If people want to farm, they'll farm in zones."

OK, I agree that Detroit is, or at least should be, a manufacturing power first and foremost. Building stuff that people want to buy will always be the key to economic relevance. Nothing wrong with planning for the day when we can churn out pallets of solar panels and windmill blades over at the old Budd plant or wherever.

But why does this totally preclude the idea that agribusiness can thrive here? Why can't Detroit seize on its manufacturing roots to revitalize its industrial sector, spur growth in construction and, at the same time, make space for substantial agricultural operations?

We have more than 138 square miles of land, plenty of it having been empty for a very long time. You mean to tell me that there's nowhere in Detroit that would be feasible for growing food on any sizable scale? Yes, I get that the region would do better to use some of the outlying land around the exurbs. But we can't even talk about moving a basketball team without venomous exchanges among regional leaders, so I can't see the wisdom in suggesting Detroit continue twiddling its thumbs on land issues in hopes of a workable regional solution.

Further, we've got major farmers ready to move into the city and set up shop. Where are the big industrial operations that are waiting — pleading — for the chance to get on the tax rolls?

When it comes to quality-of-life issues in Detroit, the limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables is often cited. Now granted, I'm not suggesting that Detroiters are flocking to the coon man en masse — there're still places like the Eastern Market and some good independent grocers in the city — but I don't get the fierce opposition to the idea of adding another dimension to that supply or to the city's economy.

I'm not suggesting that everyone don overalls and grab a hoe — shoot, I can't even keep a cactus plant alive — but unless there's compelling data out there to suggest that Detroit couldn't benefit by setting aside some land for agricultural use, what's the issue here? And really, it's not as if I'm looking for a reason to support some giant farm conglomerate. I think community farms are a wonderful thing, too, and should be encouraged also.

I'm asking sincerely here and expecting lucid responses: What are the truly compelling reasons as to why a large urban farm wouldn't be a good idea for Detroit? Hey, maybe you're right...but for now, I can't see it.

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