It’s no secret that there is a tremendous amount of abandoned land in Detroit. But that land is starting to pose an economic danger by straining the city’s resources. However, as a partial solution, residents have replaced some of the blighted houses with urban farms and gardens. While the action violates state law, the urban farms benefit the city. The state Legislature should pass the bipartisan bill introduced earlier this week in the state Senate to remove bureaucratic weeds that could prevent the urban farms from sprouting up.

The bill — introduced by state Sen. Virgil Smith (D–Detroit) and state Sen. Joe Hune (R–Livingston County) — would exempt Detroit from the 1981 Michigan Right to Farm Act. The law’s original intent was to protect farmers from new neighbors who may move from the city to expanding suburbs and complain about farms’ odors and traffic problems. As a result of the act, Detroit officials cannot approve new farming operations because under the current law, city officials would be barred from addressing citizens’ complaints about farming.

The possibility of farm shutdowns creates an incentive for farmers to stay out of the city, and leaves farmers who have risked setting up a farm in Detroit wondering if the city will force them to close. However, urban farms are growing in Detroit without complaints. While these farms are illegal, Detroit’s strained resources have so far prevented police from closing any farms.

Creating an exception for the farms in Detroit makes sense, as urban farming benefits the city. With few supermarkets or grocery stores, many areas in Detroit are considered food deserts, and Detroiters can only shop for food at small markets or convenience stores. These stores rarely carry fresh fruits or vegetables, and if they do, the produce is usually more expensive than the produce sold at supermarket chains.

According to a study released by Michigan State University, allocating approximately 4,800 acres of land for farming could provide up to 75 percent of Detroit’s vegetable needs, and help replace unhealthy pre-packaged foods with fresh and local alternatives. Urban farming could also play a role in Detroit’s economic recovery. And according to Crain’s Detroit Business, the 2,000-acre RecoveryPark farming project — a joint public and private venture in Detroit — could add 4,000 jobs in farming, deconstruction of vacant homes, food processing and related operations over the next ten years. Additional large-scale farms would help lower Detroit’s high unemployment rate and remove vacant homes — making the city more attractive to residents and businesses.

Detroit’s appetite for fresh and healthy food is evident — over 1,000 urban gardens have been registered with Garden Resource Program Collaborative, an umbrella organization for Detroit agricultural groups. Additional farmers are reluctant to move into the city without the city’s legal approval, but the passage of the proposed bill would eliminate this problem and allow urban farms to expand in Detroit.

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