Urban Farming

The collapse of Detroit’s auto industry and its related population loss have left the city with a large supply of vacant land, some of which has been returned to its historical use as farmland.  The LA Times reports:

Large gardens and small farms — usually 10 acres or less — have cropped up in thriving cities such as Berkeley, where land is tough to come by, and struggling Rust Belt communities such as Flint, Mich., which hopes to encourage green space development and residents to eat locally grown foods.

In Detroit, hundreds of backyard gardens and scores of community gardens have blossomed and helped feed students in at least 40 schools and hundreds of families.

While a widespread return to agriculture is unlikely to improve any American city’s prosperity, these cities demonstrate that flexible zoning and land use regulation allow entrepreneurs to find the most valuable use for any piece of land, benefiting local residents accordingly.  For areas where labor is relatively inexpensive and land is widely available, urban farming could be a viable short-term answer to economic growth.

Hantz Farms has found a way to profit amidst the economic turmoil and change in Detroit, profiting as a company and creating jobs simultaneously.  This success story demonstrates that job creation comes from the private sector. Producer profits lead to both new jobs and consumer surplus, whereas government “job creation” merely redistributes wealth, resulting in a deadweight loss.

However, Detroit city officials maintain reservations about urban farming.  The Times article explains:

Their concerns include figuring out who would pay for cleaning pollutants out of the soil and removing utility infrastructure, such as gas and sewer lines; how to rewrite the city’s zoning laws; and how to adjust property tax rates and property values to allow for commercial farming.