It took years to get to this point.Thousands of small trees sway in the wind as a breeze picks up on Detroit’s east side.You’ll see wide-open spaces and trees — a peculiar sight to those who aren’t aware of the nearly decade of work surrounding Hantz Farms.
It wasn’t long ago that community meetings riled up neighbors and elected-officials alike. The idea of selling off a third of the lots in a square-mile radius to a business entity didn’t always go over well.
Eventually the plan would pass in a contentious 5-to-4 vote, leaving Hantz Farms with checklist of items they needed to perform: regularly mowing lawns, knocking down abandoned structures and planting thousands of trees for what would become an urban farm. The city of Detroit has since signed off on Hantz Farms for having met all the agreements of the deal.
“We heard a lot of criticisms,” admitted Mike Score, the President of Hantz Farms.
While speaking to 7 Action News, Score is holding a large picture of the same corner he’s standing at. Looking at the picture you can see overgrown bushes and trash. Score said it’s as if they took an eraser to the blight. To look at the street corner now you wouldn’t know it’s the same area if not for the street signs reading Crane and Beaman.
“Yesterday a police officer stopped me and thanked me for the work that we’ve done saying it’s so much nicer to patrol the neighborhood,” added Score.
To date, Hantz Farms has torn down 62 structures while planting more than 24,000 saplings. It’s the regular mowing that has the remaining neighbors most pleased.
“It’s a good thing,” said Mrs. Quinn, an elderly woman who has lived on her block for more than 50 years. “It looks cleaner, better, less dumpy.”
Quinn said her only concern is that the plan will take too long to develop for her to see the fruits of the labor. When she first moved to the area there were plenty of neighbors, lots of pride in the neighborhood and regular block parties. That’s changed quite a bit over the years.
“There are no kids now, certainly less neighbors.”
The few homes remaining on the block are boarded up. Quinn said the vandals took over what was left.
Hantz Farms doesn’t own all the remaining properties. They’ve cleaned up their lots, but a number remain in the hands of the city. Quinn said she was skeptical of the group at first, but now wishes they could buy up the rest of the block so it’d all be cleaned up.
As for the concern of timing, Score noted they’ll be patient.
“We actually hate it when people rush and move onto something else before they follow-through with what they started,” said Score as he walked through one of several rows making up a 125 tree plot.
“We’re very patient,” added Score.
He points out that their idea isn’t rocket science. Years ago the mind trust behind Hantz Farms wanted to build trees that reaped fruit: apple trees, and similar bushes. The neighborhood reaction wasn’t good. The fear was that more pests would be drawn to the area, so the Hantz Farms group pivoted and devoted their work toward planting hardwoods that could one day be harvested as a timber crop.
It means there is no immediate profit, but Score noted that the long-term view is much rosier. The property values are already growing, in fact, for the first time in years homes are being marketed on the real estate market. Score noted that when they bought up the properties, most for $200 apiece, no one was selling homes.
“What’s exciting about our work is it’s simple, it’s affordable and replicable. We don’t have to be the only ones to do this type of work.”
The work has since grown to bigger things. Hantz Farms is now turning to it’s parent company, and it’s charitable arm, to expand into schools. They helped get involved with art classes in the local schools this year. The next goal is to partner with Detroit Public Schools to introduce agricultural education to students who live near the urban farm.
Score said that as they invest in the community, it will double-down on the efforts they’ve already made to remove the blight. The end goal is to continue to make the place more desirable to live, rebuilding a Detroit neighborhood in a new way that just a few years ago seems entirely unbelievable.