In the city of Detroit, an area greatly impacted by a lack of access to fresh food from grocery stores and farmers’ markets, restrictions are in place preventing urban farms from being developed on the city’s abandoned land. Both large-scale farmers and small, residential farmers are affected by the restrictions.
More than two years ago, John Hantz proposed Hantz Farms, which would have been the largest urban farm in the world, situated on 20,000 acres of open land in the city. Legal hurdles have prohibited the launch of Hantz’s business, as Detroit lawmakers told Hantz that he cannot farm the land for profit. Last spring, Hantz purchased 20 parcels of land from the city and proposed a five-acre farm, where he would cultivate the land and allow residents to harvest food for free. Detroit residents who want to grow their own food for personal consumption, or sell portions of it for profit, also cannot cultivate their own farms on 5 acres of land.
The effects of the economic downturn have particularly affected Detroit, whose residents are fleeing the poverty-stricken city and whose homes stand abandoned and boarded up. Approximately one in three Detroit residents live below the poverty level, making it difficult for many people to afford even inexpensive food. In the city, liquor stores and corner convenience stores are more populous than supermarkets, greatly limiting access to fresh, healthy food for most residents. More than half of the city’s population – about 550,000 people – is living in a food desert, an area with significantly decreased access to food. These residents have to drive twice as far to a grocery store as they would to a fast food location or a convenience store.
These food deserts affect residents’ daily lives, as food bought at liquor stores or fast food restaurants is usually more expensive than food bought at a grocery store, though many people view this as a more inexpensive solution since the cost of fast food is often cheap. However, preparing food at home from scratch – and from fresh ingredients – actually costs less per meal than fast food.
Besides financial implications, food deserts negatively affect the health of residents, as the healthiest and freshest food is sold in grocery stores or at farmers’ markets. Fast food often contains unhealthy amounts of fat and sodium, as well as too many calories, and the portion sizes of fast food meals are usually larger than an average person would eat at home, encouraging people to eat more of this unhealthy food. Health risks from fast food include obesity, heart disease and diabetes in adults and children. Diet-related diseases are increasing in Detroit, as a result of a lack of convenient access to nutritious food.
As more than half of Detroit’s residents are poor, many rely on food stamps to purchase grocery items. A report concluded that 92 percent of the city’s food stamp retailers were convenience locations such as gas stations, liquor stores and party stores. In contrast, only 8 percent of food stamp retailers were mainstream grocery stores of all sizes. Residents who rely on food stamps – a category that spans not only those who live below the poverty level but also the moderately poor – must shop where food stamps are accepted, and as the majority of the city’s food stamp locations are convenience locations, these stores do not provide residents with nutritious food and further contribute to the city’s health and food access issues.
Though some farmers’ markets have sprung up in Detroit, residents’ access to fresh produce is still lacking. Sign the petition at Change.org to allow urban farmers in Detroit to utilize the city’s abandoned land and grow healthy food for residents.
Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/22748341@N00/2737299930