Entrepreneur Employs Ex-Cons to Turn City Destruction into Massive 60-acre Urban Farm

b7d211_bcb0c3a210304110a93cacbbb81e5819By Justin Gardner

Earlier this month we reported that one entrepreneur in Chicago is turning ex-cons into beekeepers, drastically reducing recidivism while helping our pollinator friends.

Another pioneering organization in Detroit sees opportunity in the blight that has taken over large parts of this former industrial hub. The vacant land, with its dilapidated buildings, is now owned by a quasi-governmental agency called the Detroit Land Bank Authority. They are practically begging people to use the land.

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RecoveryPark is a non-profit organization established in 2010 with a mission to “create jobs for people with barriers to employment.” They are tapping into a surging growth industry in Detroit, that of urban farming. There is high demand from restaurants for locally-grown vegetables and herbs, not to mention more individuals realizing the value of this resource.

The genius of RecoveryPark is its single solution to three different problems—urban blight, employment for ex-offenders and the lack of local food options. And there’s nothing like a vegetable garden to beautify a landscape.

The plan is to turn 22 blocks of desolation into a 60-acre farm, complete with greenhouses and hydroponic growing systems. At the three-year mark, it should employ 120 people. Thirty-five acres will be leased from the city and the rest purchased from other entities. Total project cost is expected to be $15 million, with some of that coming from investors such as the Erb Family Foundation and the Kresge Foundation. Demand for their products is virtually guaranteed.

“We are working with a regional distributor on making a contract of a minimum of $8 million in specialty produce that’s going to take us into 440 restaurants over a 10-year time. That’s exciting,” said Gary Wozniak, CEO of RecoveryPark.

They already have two pilot farms that provide specialty produce, such as striped carrots, breakfast radishes, edible flowers and salad mixes, to chefs at high-end restaurants in Detroit.

Another positive aspect of this venture is that ex-offenders will get a chance to own or be involved in businesses related to the production and distribution of the food grown at RecoveryPark. This has a tremendous effect on their ability to stay out of jail and become productive members of society.

“We are not just transforming property. We are going to transform lives,” said Mayor Mike Duggan. “They are taking the hardest to employ folks in our community and putting them to work on land that had been long abandoned and forgotten.”

As an added bonus, RecoveryPark will restore the old Chene-Ferry farmers market building, which dates back to 1850, into their new distribution and operations hub.

Projects like these show how creative people can find novel solutions to problems facing humanity, including putting the food system back into the hands of local individuals and communities.

Justin Gardner writes for TheFreeThoughtProject.com


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