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Urban Agriculture – A New State of Mind

Hort Americas is continually interested in watching the urban agriculture movement.  (Especially as it relates to areas like Detroit, Michigan.)

The below video shows how small farms can bring “life” back to communities.

The next step for these farmers will be to create more opportunities (good paying jobs, growth/education for young people, and community development.)
At this point in time, in order to create a stable environment for all it will be important to create a year round of produce using technology to out smart the Michigan winters and technology to out compete cheap supply from other warmer climates.

It is truly exciting to watch disciplines like controlled environment agriculture, hydroponics, aeroponics, etc. be used as potential tools in an endeavor as important as rebuilding a city, a community and what will become a generation.

Visit our corporate website at https://www.hortamericas.com

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Bioworks and Philips have new products for Hydroponics and Horticulture

Biowork’s Nemashield a great option for Hydroponic Greenhouse Vegetable Growers looking at controling soil-borne insects.

Details:  NemaShield®
Insect Control
Beneficial Nematodes – Soil Drench
Biological Control for Fungus Gnats and Western Flower Thrips
Safe and easy to apply
Exempt from EPA regulations; no re-entry interval
Compatible with many pesticides
Fast, overnight delivery as needed
 
The Philips Research Module LED is now available in the United States.  According to the Utreccht University, the Research Module “obtained very positive results from the test we performed with the GreenPower LED modules.  We can grow our model plant Arabidopsis quickly and easily.”  (Dr. Sjef Smeekens and Dr. Marcel Proveniers)
Utrect University conducted scientific tests in a climate cabinet equiped with GreenPower LED modules.  The modules are specially deisgned to deliver a uniform light distribution at a distance of 50 cm specifally in a climate cabinet.
Make sure to contact us with any comments or questions.
 

Visit our corporate website at https://www.hortamericas.com

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Greenhouse Production to Continue Increasing in Mexico

Read this Exectuive Summary from the USDA

Executive Summary: During the week of April 13, 2010, FAS/Mexico visited protected agricultural facilities in the states of Jalisco and Sinaloa. Production under these houses has transformed Mexican agriculture and continues to adapt unique technologies depending on weather conditions and economic factors. Protected agricultural production uses installations of low to medium technology and ranges from hard plastic to anti-aphid netting (depending on the definition of greenhouse or shade house). A few use hydroponic systems, but most use drip irrigation without heating systems or CO2. Half of the area devoted to protected agriculture uses shade houses since this type of technology can adapt to the weather more efficiently. Most of the growers agreed that due to the latitude of Mexico and warmer climates in producing areas, shade houses adapt better (especially considering shade houses are typically cheaper). According to producers, weather conditions dictate what kind of technology is needed to guarantee optimal conditions of growth and quality production while following food safety production regulations and therefore, more producers are moving to shade houses. Whether through greenhouses or shade houses, production under protected agriculture continues to grow rapidly. The percentage of area planted using protected agriculture has increased nearly 40 percent over the past three years. The United States is the primary market for products grown under protected agriculture, but growers continue to export larger quantities each year to other markets.

Please email us at infohortamericas@gmail.com for additional information.

Visit our corporate website at https://www.hortamericas.com

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An opposing view on Vertical Farming

Hort Americas believes that both sides should be heard and looked at when it comes to Hydroponics, Vertical Farming, Urban Agriculture and CEA.

And while we at Hort Americas may believe firmly in new “farming” opportunities, we completely understand the Macro view and their potential limitations.

Please take a minute to read this post from Graham Land at Greenfudge.org and the article by George Monbiot, before you make up your own mind.

In Monday’s Guardian George Monbiot slams the concept of ‘vertical farming’ in a piece, entitled ‘Greens living in ivory towers now want to farm them too’.

His main beef is that a Columbia University parasitologist named Dickson Despommier has been getting a lot of support in the green media for his idea to create skyscraper farms in densely populated urban areas like New York City, which might be a brilliant idea, but it’s a fanciful one as well.

This immediately reminded me of stories about an underground indoor rice farm in Tokyo’s financial district, which turned out to be an expensive publicity experiment.

Monbiot sees vertical farming as a distraction. Water and farmland shortages along with a growing world population bring agriculture and food towards the forefront of environmental issues. Scary stuff in terms of crop failures and resultant starvation for the poor have-nots, but the haves in places like Manhattan are interested in expensive high tech luxury solutions like skyscraper farming?

Despite the impracticality and massive expense the environmental media has been all over it. In a Time magazine article, there is a partial admission of the fault:

“[…] Despommier concedes that it would cost hundreds of millions to build a full-scale skyscraper farm. That’s the main drawback: construction and energy costs would probably make vertically raised food more costly than traditional crops. At least for now.”

Honestly, vertical farming sounds like a cool university project for a designer or architect, but the extent to which it is taken by Despommier seems far from realistic.

I prefer the other kind of urban farming that is happening in Detroit. People move out, abandon houses and land, the remaining folks utilize that land to grow food, which they eat and sell. Brilliant, efficient and not reliant on some expensive high-tech structure in an exorbitantly priced neighborhood. Maybe I’m just completely ignorant, but besides roof gardens, urban gardens or small plots, farming in Manhattan just doesn’t make much sense.

Read about that in this BBC News article:

Urban farming takes root in Detroit

We should be as efficient as we can, but that means behavior suited to the immediate surroundings, not forcing a square peg into a round hole. How about practical solutions like wasting less energy by importing less food? How about growing crops primarily for human consumption rather than wasteful, intensive livestock farming?

Still, if vertical farming happens to work, then fine, knock yourself out.

Visit our corporate website at https://www.hortamericas.com

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Hydroponics, Aquaponics and Urban Argriculture Offers Opportunity to Re-Invent Small Industry

Hort Americas recently saw this video from a news station in Tampa Bay, Florida.

However there are times that major turmoil and obstacles can create new and unique opportunities.

Watch this video to see how aquaponics and hydroponics may be an option for those looking for new ventures.

Visit our corporate website at https://www.hortamericas.com

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LED Research Modules Now Available

The below information was provided by Philips directly.

Research

“We require reliable products that can be used flexibly for various tests with different starting points. The GreenPower LED module is clear and reliable in its specifications and gives us a great deal of freedom when working with it.”

Dr Wim van IeperenWageningen University and Research Centre

In research it is about discovering, interpreting, and the development of methods and systems for the advancement of plant science. The Philips GreenPower LED module enables you to study the influence of light on the growth and development of plants in conditioned environments. Light level and color spectrum are tunable and test results will not be impacted by heat radiation. Read more about Philips GreenPower LED module.

Tissue culture and storage

“ In our company we saw lots of opportunities for LEDs. By carrying out tests with the GreenPower LED string, we found solutions for both tissue culture and plant storage. As well as saving energy, LEDs help us to improve plant quality, mainly thanks to better heat control.”

Sjoukje Heimovaara, Royal van Zanten

In tissue culture it is about fast, uniform and reproducible production of high quality starting plant material often using low GrowthLight levels. The flexible GreenPower LED string is specially designed for tissue culture, storage and transport. It enables a uniform light distribution across the shelf, ensuring that every crop receives the same level and quality of light. Read more about Philips GreenPower LED string.

Young plants

“Over the past year we have achieved very good results with GreenPower LED modules, using a combination of red and blue light. The next step will be to optimize the yield and quality of our Anthurium production, while taking into account the overall cultivation recipe.” Martin van Noort, Rijnplant Breeding

When producing young plants, high uniformity, strong year-round quality and on-time delivery to the customer are of key importance. With GreenPower LED module it is now possible to tune the light intensity and light color to meet the specific needs at every stage of a crop’s growth. Its specially developed optics and optimized thermal design ensure a uniform light distribution while radiating very little heat toward the plants.

Production/ assimilation

For lighting in greenhouses high GrowthLight levels are required. In the next few years HID lighting continues to be the most efficient solution for growers.

For assimilation in greenhouses too, Philips continues to invest in R&D and field tests to develop horticultural lighting solutions that will create value for growers worldwide. For example, it is currently conducting a major field test – together with a leading tomato grower– with a hybrid of HID and LED lighting. In this way it is seeking to combine the best of both worlds: the GrowthLight power of HID with the flexibility of LEDs.

The knowledge of these tests will help us all to develop meaningful light solutions for greenhouse applications.

We will for sure keep you updated about this project.

For more information on LED lights currently available contact Hort Americas directly.

Visit our corporate website at https://www.hortamericas.com

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LED Lighting from Philips

As we said at the beggining of the month, Hort Americas is very excited about the new LED technology soon to release in the North American Horticulture, Hydroponic and Urban Agriculture Markets.

Advancements in technology such as this are sure to change the opportunities for vertical farming!

See the a quote from Philips.

“Solid-state LED lighting is known to offer a number of benefits to industrial horticulture, including increased yields, enabling earlier flowering, speeding up root growth and enabling more economical use of space. LED lighting is also highly energy-efficient, helping industrial horticultural producers to lower their electricity consumption, especially during the highly energy-dependent autumn and winter period….Multi-layer production is a highly attractive technique, as it can maximize available space or even cut down on the space required. By testing various growth light recipes in combination with different substrates, fertilizer and watering growers will be able to investigate how to optimize conditions when changing over to multi-layer production. This will include research into how crops respond to the different light levels and colors LED lamps are capable of producing. Light testing will work in combination with variable aspects of substrates, such as in air content, structure, watering and fertilization.

“With the opening of this test center, we can apply ‘real-time’ application of LED growth lighting and substrates together for the first time,” said Udo van Slooten, responsible for LED application in horticulture within Philips Lighting. “LED lighting has already been proven to offer many benefits to the horticultural industry, but through this unique collaboration between Philips and BVB Substrates, we will be able to learn much more with the direct involvement of growers themselves.””

Hort Americas will soon be posting informational PDF’s on LED lighting at our Website. Please check in to download.

Visit our corporate website at https://www.hortamericas.com

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Philips to Introduce LED Technology at OFA Short Course

In recent years there has been quite a bit of hype regarding LED technology and it eventual impact on artificial lighting in the horticulture industry.

And in most cases, that is all that it was…hydpe!

We, at Hort Americas, believe that this may finally be changing.  In 2010 and 2011 we anticipate  there will be studies, data and products released from different sources that will start to make LED’s viable for different segement within the horticultural industry.

During this same time, Philips will be introducing their approach to LED’s in the North American horticulture industry at this years OFA Short Course.

Here is a sneak preview:

LED’s future in horticulture is going to be knowledge and optimal lighting “recipes.”

With a light recipe as a starting point, every crop will be approached differntly and will be optimized using all variables in the greenhouse such irriagation, nutrition and environmnental manipulation (CO2, temperature, humidity, etc.)

Currently these recipes are either under development or have been developed for the following areas:

  1. Research
  2. Storage and Transport
  3. Tissue Culture
  4. Propagation
  5. Multilayer Production (Vertical Farming)
  6. Greenhouse Interlighting

Philips has spent many hours working on:

Gerberas, Chyrsanthemums, Kalanchoes, Greenhouse Grown Strawberries and Greenhouse Grown Tomatoes
The results from test in these areas and on the selected crops are showing:
  1. Faster Growth
  2. Better Quality
  3. Higher Yield
  4. Decreased Temperature Issues, (as well as enegy savings depending on application.)

It is important to know that Philips has a vast amount of knowledge in regards to horticultural lighting (this includes traditional lighting methods as well.)  They are currently working together with growers, breeders and other qualified partners to provide the optimum lighting solutions (measured by improved performance and ultimately lower cost.)

Contact Hort Americas to learn more about Philips and their current offering.

Visit our corporate website at https://www.hortamericas.com

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Village Farms information Video

At Hort Americas we do not normally promote our customers businesses, but there are times when our customers do some things we think others should see.

Village Farms created a promotional video that does a good job of show casing and explaning greenhouse vegetable production at a very high level.  (I feel I must say, we are not in anyway trying to imply that they do it better than any of our other customers…they just produced a very nice video to promote their style.)

Enjoy!

Visit our corporate website at https://www.hortamericas.com

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Bato’s Full Orchid Accessory Offering

In February of this year (2010) Bato Plastics BV “took over a substantial part” of the JOBU Plastics BV assortment.

This allows for both Bato and Jobu to focus on their specialties.

Check out some of the products now offered by Bato.

Orchid Lock
Orchid Peg
Label Lock
Label Holder
Twister
Bato is still offering all of the products you have come to know and trust.
Dutch Buckets

Visit our corporate website at https://www.hortamericas.com

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Greenhouse Sanitation key for Commercial Growers

As any good greenhouse production consultant, greenhouse extension agent or land grant university will tell you . . . efficient, thorough and effective Greenhouse Sanitation Programs is necessary in order reduce your exposure to insects, disease, bacteria, viruses and possibly viroids.  A well thought out program will also improve your fruit and flower quality while at the same time reduce your need for pesticides, excess labor and un-needed worries.

Items to focus on:

1) The previous crop may be still harbouring active sporulating infections
such as but not limited to powdery mildew. There may also be strains of disease that
have become resistant to the fungicides that may have been used on
the crop over the season.
2) The use of knives spreads viral infections such as green mottle
mosaic virus. It is imperative to adopt a regular disinfection procedure
to break the cycle of infection.
3) Harvest trays should be regularly cleaned and disinfected. They are
a constant source of disease transmission and should be cared for.
4) Clothing and footware – nursery staff will generally be aware of the
need to wear clean clothing in the greenhouse but is there a policy
in respect of visitors to the nursery?
5) Hands – Mycosphaerella is often spread by unclean hands.
Ensuring that staff practice regular personal hygiene is essential.
6) Polythene and rockwool materials (and/or other substrates and containers) will be covered in spores at the
end of the season. The use of a disinfectant and steam sterilisation will
deal with these infection sources.
7) Irrigation tubing and drips. Buying new irrigation equipment every
year is not a viable option but regular disinfection of the system is.

And …

♦ Post-harvest: pre-crop pull out – Once the final harvest has been
taken from the crop and before the vegetation is removed from the
glasshouse, the use of a disinfectant removes possible resistant
strains of pathogens that may have built up during the growing cycle.
Greenhouse disinfectants at the labeled rates over the senescing vegetation so that
when pull-out occurs the spread of fungal spores is minimized.
♦ Intercropping situations – Disinfectants can be used in backpack sprayers
sprayer for spot treatment to clean down these areas.
♦ Irrigation lines – Used labeled products and leave for 1 hour
before flushing the system with clean water.
♦ Resistance – Is not a problem with Greenhouse Disinfectants owing to their unique and
rapid activity. And therefore are key element in an anti-resistance
strategy.
♦ Biological systems – Most fit as key parts of IPM strategy.

Contact Hort Americas if you would like to continue learning more about Greenhouse Disinfectants!

Visit our corporate website at https://www.hortamericas.com

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Focus on Water

As recently stated in our website, Hort Americas is focused on helping growers conserve one of their most precious commodities…WATER.

A hot and popular topic with the media (see this months National Geographic), politicians (see Rueters) and with business men (see T. Boone Pickens), water is already heavily debated and will more than likely play a major role in how our industry grows in the years to come.

Since we feel “water” is such an important topic we are going to spend the next few posts focusing in on commonly overlooked or misunderstood areas of irrigation.

The first topic is going to be hydraulic control valves.

Two factors that are important to the irrigation needs for growers are:

1.) Accurate water pressure to promote uniform vegetation growth.
2.) Protection from high pressure spikes (which protect sensitive system components such as irrigation lines, drip lines, equipment, etc. from damage.)

Valves are important part of any irrigation system because, if used and maintained properly, they precisely control the flow of water.

While it could be said that each irrigation system is unique, it is obvious that well built systems have a few things in common.

Quality Components
Plan for Conservation (Reclaiming and Recycling)
Strong Maintenance Program
Room for Expansion

It is important to select hydraulic control valves that consistently deliver fast, accurate pressure regulation for your greenhouse irrigation system.

Ooval available from Hort Americas and provided exclusively in the US and Canada through Amiad Filtration Systems are the fastest responding, most accurate valves in their class. Ooval, in operation since 2003, was started by three founders with over 70 years of experience in drip and greenhouse irrigation in the highly arid Middle Eastern climate of Israel to bring innovative, high-added value valves to the global irrigation marketplace.

Visit our corporate website at https://www.hortamericas.com

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The Future of Growing with Tim Blank

www.futuregrowing.comLast week Hort Americas had the pleasure of visiting with a visionary from with-in the commercial Hydroponic Industry.

Tim Blank of Future Growing

Tim Blank of Future Growing, LLC (formerly working with Hydroponics for Disney’s Epcot theme park in Orlando) is committed to further developing Vertical Farming and Urban Agriculture.  His primary driver is to provide as many people as possible with access to healthy and locally grown food options.  If you are seriously interested in learning more about Vertical Farming and Urban Agriculture, we recommend you visit Tim’s website at www.futuregrowing.com.  And, if you are interested in purchasing hydroponic towers for your backyard please send Doug Pennington and email at dpennington@hortamericas.com.

Visit our corporate website at https://www.hortamericas.com

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Used Horticultural Equipment

With the current global economic conditions, it has become evident that many commercial greenhouses have become very cautious with their investments.

Due to this there has been a lot of interest in used horticultural equipment. Hort Americas is working with many different groups to provide as many options as possible.

If you are interested in finding used equipment please contact Hort Americas for additional information.

(Hort Americas will also post products on www.horticulturalweb.net, this is a classified service.)

Visit our corporate website at https://www.hortamericas.com

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A Busy January 2010!

As is normal, January has been a very busy and productive month.  January has also brought a great deal of changes to the Hort Americas product portfolio.
TPIE 2010
First was our visit to the Tropical Plant Industry Expo in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
In this video from TPIE 2009 you can see what the show is all about:

We will be adding new video and photos from this years TPIE just as soon as editing is completed.  (We would like to say that the Sun-Fire Nursery and Suntory did an amazing job with the Hospitality Suite and the Hot Air Ballons.)

Bringing bicycles back!

Since many of our customers and clients are deeply rooted with Dutch Ancenstory, we thought it only wise to make bicycles available in our product offering.

So, let us introduce you to the world Yuba.  The Yuba bike gives anyone in the greenhouse the ability to easily transport tools, equipment (up to 200lbs), plants, lunch and much much more!  Call today to learn more about this very versatile cargo bike.

Finally, Hort Americas is proud to offer the complete line of John Deere Water, Amiad Filtration and GSI Ag.

Visit our corporate website at https://www.hortamericas.com to learn more about all these great products.

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Can Farming Save a City?

Fortune Magazine post an interesting question?

Can Farming save Detroit?

What do you think?  We think Agriculture will go thru many changes as it continues to cope with changing expectations regarding:  Sustainability, Climate, Natural Resources and Population.
But, we are not sure that it will save cities…unless that is that the expectations within those cities are greatly different than what they are today.
Please let us know what you think.
Below is what was posted at CNN on Dec 29, 2009.
By David Whitford, editor at largeDecember 29, 2009: 11:37 AM ET


DETROIT (Fortune) — John Hantz is a wealthy money manager who lives in an older enclave of Detroit where all the houses are grand and not all of them are falling apart. Once a star stockbroker at American Express, he left 13 years ago to found his own firm. Today Hantz Financial Services has 20 offices in Michigan, Ohio, and Georgia, more than 500 employees, and $1.3 billion in assets under management.
Twice divorced, Hantz, 48, lives alone in clubby, paneled splendor, surrounded by early-American landscapes on the walls, an autograph collection that veers from Detroit icons such as Ty Cobb and Henry Ford to Baron von Richthofen and Mussolini, and a set of Ayn Rand first editions.
With a net worth of more than $100 million, he’s one of the richest men left in Detroit — one of the very few in his demographic who stayed put when others were fleeing to Grosse Pointe and Bloomfield Hills. Not long ago, while commuting, he stumbled on a big idea that might help save his dying city.
Every weekday Hantz pulls his Volvo SUV out of the gated driveway of his compound and drives half an hour to his office in Southfield, a northern suburb on the far side of Eight Mile Road. His route takes him through a desolate, postindustrial cityscape — the kind of scene that is shockingly common in Detroit.
Along the way he passes vacant buildings, abandoned homes, and a whole lot of empty land. In some stretches he sees more pheasants than people. “Every year I tell myself it’s going to get better,” says Hantz, bright-eyed, with smooth cheeks and a little boy’s carefully combed haircut, “and every year it doesn’t.”
Then one day about a year and a half ago, Hantz had a revelation. “We need scarcity,” he thought to himself as he drove past block after unoccupied block. “We can’t create opportunities, but we can create scarcity.” And that, he says one afternoon in his living room between puffs on an expensive cigar, “is how I got onto this idea of the farm.”
Yes, a farm. A large-scale, for-profit agricultural enterprise, wholly contained within the city limits of Detroit. Hantz thinks farming could do his city a lot of good: restore big chunks of tax-delinquent, resource-draining urban blight to pastoral productivity; provide decent jobs with benefits; supply local markets and restaurants with fresh produce; attract tourists from all over the world; and — most important of all — stimulate development around the edges as the local land market tilts from stultifying abundance to something more like scarcity and investors move in. Hantz is willing to commit $30 million to the project. He’ll start with a pilot program this spring involving up to 50 acres on Detroit’s east side. “Out of the gates,” he says, “it’ll be the largest urban farm in the world.”
This is possibly not as crazy as it sounds. Granted, the notion of devoting valuable city land to agriculture would be unfathomable in New York, London, or Tokyo. But Detroit is a special case. The city that was once the fourth largest in the country and served as a symbol of America’s industrial might has lately assumed a new role: North American poster child for the global phenomenon of shrinking postindustrial cities.
Nearly 2 million people used to live in Detroit. Fewer than 900,000 remain. Even if, unlikely as it seems, the auto industry were to rebound dramatically and the U.S. economy were to come roaring back tomorrow, no one — not even the proudest civic boosters — imagines that the worst is over. “Detroit will probably be a city of 700,000 people when it’s all said and done,” says Doug Rothwell, CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan. “The big challenge is, What do you do with a population of 700,000 in a geography that can accommodate three times that much?”
But still there’s the problem of what to do with the city’s enormous amount of abandoned land, conservatively estimated at 40 square miles in a sprawling metropolis whose 139-square-mile footprint is easily bigger than San Francisco, Boston, and Manhattan combined. If you let it revert to nature, you abandon all hope of productive use. If you turn it over to parks and recreation, you add costs to an overburdened city government that can’t afford to teach its children, police its streets, or maintain the infrastructure it already has.
Faced with those facts, a growing number of policymakers and urban planners have begun to endorse farming as a solution. Former HUD secretary Henry Cisneros, now chairman of CityView, a private equity firm that invests in urban development, is familiar with Detroit’s land problem. He says he’s in favor of “other uses that engage human beings in their maintenance, such as urban agriculture.” After studying the city’s options at the request of civic leaders, the American Institute of Architects came to this conclusion in a recent report: “Detroit is particularly well suited to become a pioneer in urban agriculture at a commercial scale.”
In that sense, Detroit might actually be ahead of the curve. When Alex Krieger, chairman of the department of urban planning and design at Harvard, imagines what the settled world might look like half a century from now, he sees “a checkerboard pattern” with “more densely urbanized areas, and areas preserved for various purposes such as farming.
The notion of a walled city, a contained city — that’s an 18th-century idea.” And where will the new ideas for the 21st century emerge? From older, decaying cities, Krieger believes, such as New Orleans, St. Louis, Cleveland, Newark, and especially Detroit — cities that have become, at least in part, “kind of empty containers.”
This is a lot to hang on Hantz. Most of what he knows about agriculture he’s picked up over the past 18 months from the experts he’s consulting at Michigan State and the Kellogg Foundation. Then there’s the fact that many of his fellow citizens are openly rooting against him. Since word leaked of his scheme last spring, he has been criticized by community activists, who call the plan a land grab. Opponents have also raised questions about the run-ins he’s had with regulators at Hantz Financial.
But Detroit is nothing if not desperate for new ideas, and Hantz has had no trouble getting his heard. “It all sounds very exciting,” says the DEGC’s Jackson, whose agency is working on assembling a package of incentives for Hantz, including free city land. “We hope it works.”
Detroit’s civic history is notable for repeated failed attempts to revitalize its core. Over the past three decades leaders have embraced a series of downtown redevelopment plans that promised to save the city.
The massive Renaissance Center office and retail complex, built in the 1970s, mostly served to suck tenants out of other downtown buildings. (Today 48 of those buildings stand empty.) Three new casinos (one already bankrupt) and two new sports arenas (one for the NFL’s dreadful Lions, the other for MLB’s Tigers) have restored, on some nights, a little spark to downtown Detroit but have inspired little in the way of peripheral development. Downtown is still eerily underpopulated, the tax base is still crumbling, and people are still leaving. The jobless rate in the city is 27%.
Nothing yet tried in Detroit even begins to address the fundamental issue of emptiness — empty factories, empty office buildings, empty houses, and above all, empty lots. Rampant arson, culminating in the annual frenzy of Devil’s Night, is partly to blame. But there has also been a lot of officially sanctioned demolition in Detroit. As white residents fled to the suburbs over the decades, houses in the decaying neighborhoods they left behind were often bulldozed.
Abandonment is an infrastructure problem, when you consider the cost of maintaining far-flung roads and sewer systems; it’s a city services problem, when you think about the inefficiencies of collecting trash and fighting crime in sparsely populated neighborhoods; and it’s a real estate problem. Houses in Detroit are selling for an average of $15,000.
That sounds like a buying opportunity, and in fact Detroit looks pretty good right now to a young artist or entrepreneur who can’t afford anyplace else — but not yet to an investor. The smart money sees no point in buying as long as fresh inventory keeps flooding the market. “In the target sites we have,” says Hantz, “we [reevaluate] every two weeks.”
As Hantz began thinking about ways to absorb some of that inventory, what he imagined, he says, was a glacier: one broad, continuous swath of farmland, growing acre by acre, year by year, until it had overrun enough territory to raise the scarcity alarm and impel other investors to act. Rick Foster, an executive at the Kellogg Foundation whom Hantz sought out for advice, nudged him gently in a different direction.
“I think you should make pods,” Foster said, meaning not one farm but many. Hantz was taken right away with the concept of creating several pods — or lakes, as he came to think of them — each as large as 300 acres, and each surrounded by its own valuable frontage. “What if we had seven lakes in the city?” he wondered. “Would people develop around those lakes?”
To increase the odds that they will, Hantz plans on making his farms both visually stunning and technologically cutting edge. Where there are row crops, Hantz says, they’ll be neatly organized, planted in “dead-straight lines — they may even be in a design.” But the plan isn’t to make Detroit look like Iowa. “Don’t think a farm with tractors,” says Hantz. “That’s old.”
In fact, Hantz’s operation will bear little resemblance to a traditional farm. Mike Score, who recently left Michigan State’s agricultural extension program to join Hantz Farms as president, has written a business plan that calls for the deployment of the latest in farm technology, from compost-heated greenhouses to hydroponic (water only, no soil) and aeroponic (air only) growing systems designed to maximize productivity in cramped settings.
He’s really excited about apples. Hantz Farms will use a trellised system that’s compact, highly efficient, and tourist-friendly. It won’t be like apple picking in Massachusetts, and that’s the point. Score wants visitors to Hantz Farms to see that agriculture is not just something that takes place in the countryside. They will be able to “walk down the row pushing a baby stroller,” he promises.
Crop selection will depend on the soil conditions of the plots that Hantz acquires. Experts insist that most of the land is not irretrievably toxic. The majority of the lots now vacant in Detroit were residential, not industrial; the biggest problem is how compacted the soil is. For the most part the farms will focus on high-margin edibles: peaches, berries, plums, nectarines, and exotic greens. Score says that the first crops are likely to be lettuce and heirloom tomatoes.
Hantz says he’s willing to put up the entire $30 million investment himself — all cash, no debt — and immediately begin hiring locally for full-time positions. But he wants two things first from Jackson at the DEGC: free tax-delinquent land, which he’ll combine with his own purchases, he says (he’s aiming for an average cost of $3,000 per acre, in line with rural farmland in southern Michigan), and a zoning adjustment that would create a new, lower tax rate for agriculture. There’s no deal yet, but neither request strikes Jackson as unattainable. “If we have reasonable due diligence,” he says, “I think we’ll give it a shot.”
Detroit mayor Dave Bing is watching closely. The Pistons Hall of Fame guard turned entrepreneur has had what his spokesman describes as “productive discussions” with Hantz. In a statement to Fortune, Bing says he’s “encouraged by the proposals to bring commercial farming back to Detroit. As we look to diversify our economy, commercial farming has some real potential for job growth and rebuilding our tax base.”
Hantz, for his part, says he’s got three or four locations all picked out (“one of them will pop”) and is confident he’ll have seeds in the ground “in some sort of demonstration capacity” this spring. “Some things you’ve got to see in order to believe,” he says, waving his cigar. “This is a thing you’ve got to believe in order to see.”
Many have a hard time making that leap. When news of Hantz’s ambitious plan broke in the Detroit papers last spring, few people even knew who he was. A little digging turned up a less-than-spotless record at Hantz Financial Services. The firm has paid fines totaling more than $1 million in the past five years, including $675,000 in 2005, without admitting or denying guilt, “for fraud and misrepresentations relating to undisclosed revenue-sharing arrangements, as well as other violations,” according to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. (Hantz responds, “If we find something that isn’t in compliance, we take immediate steps to correct the problem.”)
Hantz Farms’ first hire, VP Matt Allen, did have an established reputation in Detroit, but it wasn’t a good one. Two years ago, while he was press secretary for former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, Allen pleaded guilty to domestic violence and obstructing police after his wife called 911. He was sentenced to a year’s probation. Hantz says he has known Allen for many years and values his deep knowledge of the city. “He has earned a second chance, and I’m willing to give it to him,” he says.
Some of Hantz’s biggest skeptics, ironically, are the same people who’ve been working to transform Detroit into a laboratory for urban farming for years, albeit on a much smaller scale. The nonprofit Detroit Agriculture Network counts nearly 900 urban gardens within the city limits. That’s a twofold increase in two years, and it places Detroit at the forefront of a vibrant national movement to grow more food locally and lessen the nation’s dependence on Big Ag.
None of those gardens is very big (average size: 0.25 acre), and they don’t generate a lot of cash (most don’t even try), but otherwise they’re great: as antidotes to urban blight; sources of healthy, affordable food in a city that, incredibly, has no chain supermarkets; providers of meaningful, if generally unpaid, work to the chronically unemployed; and beacons around which disintegrating communities can begin to regather themselves.
That actually sounds a lot like what Hantz envisions his farms to be in the for-profit arena. But he doesn’t have many fans among the community gardeners, who feel that Hantz is using his money and connections to capitalize on their pioneering work. “I’m concerned about the corporate takeover of the urban agriculture movement in Detroit,” says Malik Yakini, a charter school principal and founder of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, which operates D-Town Farm on Detroit’s west side. “At this point the key players with him seem to be all white men in a city that’s at least 82% black.”
Hantz, meanwhile, has no patience for what he calls “fear-based” criticism. He has a hard time concealing his contempt for the nonprofit sector generally. (“Someone must pay taxes,” he sniffs.) He also flatly rejects the idea that he’s orchestrating some kind of underhanded land grab. In fact, Hantz says that he welcomes others who might want to start their own farms in the city. “Viability and sustainability to me are all that matters,” he says.
And yet Hantz is fully aware of the potentially historic scope of what he is proposing. After all, he’s talking about accumulating hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of acres inside a major American city. And it’s clear that he views Hantz Farms as his legacy. Already he’s told his 21-year-old daughter, Lauren, his only heir, that if she wants to own the land one day, she has to promise him she’ll never sell it. “This is like buying a penthouse in New York in 1940,” Hantz says. “No one should be able to afford to do this ever again.”
That might seem like an overly optimistic view of Detroit’s future. But allow Hantz to dream a little. Twenty years from now, when people come to the city and have a drink at the bar at the top of the Renaissance Center, what will they see? Maybe that’s not the right vantage point. Maybe they’ll actually be on the farm, picking apples, looking up at the RenCen. “That’s the beauty of being down and out,” says Hantz. “You can actually open your mind to ideas that you would never otherwise embrace.” At this point, Detroit doesn’t have much left to lose. To top of page

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